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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 May 1993

Vol. 136 No. 1

Adjournment Matters. - Regional Tourism Organisations.

I bring before the House this evening the motion that Seanad Éireann considers the rôle of Bord Fáilte and regional tourism organisations after the county enterprise partnership boards are set up. The motion arises out of concern for the future. The enterprise boards are welcome in most counties and particularly County Donegal where we have a number of longstanding agencies but inadequate ability and funding to promote enterprise and provide jobs. I am concerned about the development of the tourism industry in County Donegal although I would not claim to be more concerned than the Minister of State whose constituency is environmentally unspoiled and is crying out for development.

I have examined the contribution made by Bord Fáilte to County Donegal. I do not have accurate figures, but in 1989 the Bord Fáilte budget was about £30 million of which about £4.5 million was spent on funding the regional tourism organisations. I believe those organisations were well intentioned when they were set up as promotional bodies but they never received adequate funding. The northwest region has great potential for tourism development. I look at that region and ask myself what has the regional tourism organisation contributed. I am disappointed that the organisation was never properly funded even though it has a good public profile. The money they get only pays for staff, administration structure and literature.

I have no respect for Bord Fáilte. While many say it is a wonderful organisation and has done much for tourism, I remain unconvinced. The Government has allocated £30 million to Bord Fáilte. This organisation is top-heavy, there are three offices in Dublin and nine offices outside the country. There is a serious duplication at international level which is absorbing the budget. Some of the larger groups involved in tourism will tell me I do not know what I am talking about because they are doing well. I have been interested in tourism for some time and it is good to know these groups benefit from Bord Fáilte's current marketing campaign. However, there seems to be no help forthcoming from Bord Fáilte for the smaller operator in rural areas.

As I see it, there will be a certain amount of duplication in the work of the enterprise boards, the regional tourism organisations and Bord Fáilte. There is a great deal of confusion about the responsibilities of each body. If a public representative wanted to help somebody planning a project he would have to know which agency would serve that project best. There are good people at the top of these bodies and their intentions are good but they do not have enough authority.

We are concerned about duplication of responsibilities. In local authorities we say that when you pay the engineers and the administration, you will only have enough money to put oil in the lamp. Excessive duplication would disillusion those interested in developing tourism. The enterprise boards should have power and adequate funding but this is not the case with the regional tourism organisations or Bord Fáilte. They currently cater for a small section and their role must be re-examined in light of the new enterprise boards. I ask the Minister to raise this matter with the Minister for Finance and other Ministers involved in promoting tourism. I am sure the Minister of State, is as aware of the problem as I. We have too many institutions with very little power.

Donegal South-West): I thank Senator McGowan for raising this important matter this evening.

In the absence of the Minister for Tourism and Trade, I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline to the House the measures which are being adopted to ensure close co-operation, which is essential between existing tourism structures and the new enterprise boards.

As the House may know, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, who has responsibility for the formation of the enterprise boards, has just reported to the Government on his review of the arrangements for the establishment of county enterprise partnership boards and will be announcing the details of the arrangements to be made for the establishment of these boards within the next few weeks.

In the context of the establishment of the enterprise boards, the Minister for Tourism and Trade is very conscious of the need to have efficient and effective institutional structures set in place for the promotion and development of tourism at regional and county level. Following a detailed review of the co-ordination of tourism at regional level, as recommended by the Tourism Task Force and confirmed in the Programme for a Partnership Government, he recently announced changes in Irish tourism structures, which should facilitate close co-operation and practical working arrangements between the RTOs and the enterprise boards, once they are established. Senator McGowan referred to duplication; none of us wants to see this. It is essential that all agencies work closely together to ensure the maximum effectiveness.

The RTOs will continue to have responsibility for tourism development at regional level, which will include the production of regional tourism development plans, the development of marketing functions at regional, trans-regional and trans-county level and, finally, a servicing rôle which will include the operation of the National Tourist Information Office network and accommodation requirements. The enterprise boards will be responsible for stimulating, assisting and co-ordinating community and rural based enterprise projects in the tourism sector, which can be developed around job creation opportunities.

Bord Fáilte would agree that more could be done if the additional finance that is required was available. I have no doubt Bord Fáilte at all times seek to obtain a bigger budget but it is difficult to make available all the money that is needed. They do their utmost to work efficiently for the various regions with the money available.

The Minister is currently examining mechanisms for improved representation for tourism interests at county level in the development of county tourism action plans, which will feed into regional tourism development plans. In doing this, the Minister is working in close co-operation with the Minister for Enterprise and Employment. It is anticipated that these new arrangements, which will shortly be finalised, will offer enormous potential and opportunities for the RTOs and the future enterprise boards to work closely together in developing tourism to its full potential at regional and county level.

As agreed with the RTOs, the Minister for Tourism and Trade is examining the suitability of the corporate structures of the RTOs to meet those objectives and is assessing the changes required to streamline their work and to facilitate efficient cooperation between activities at regional and county level.

Turning to the rôle of Bord Fáilte, as the House knows, its main functions are laid down in the Tourist Traffic Acts, 1939-87. Its primary rôle is to encourage and promote the development of tourist traffic in and out of the State. It is now widely accepted that there is tremendous potential for wealth and job creation through growth in tourism revenue. Bord Fáilte plays a vital role in co-ordinating the function of export marketing and product development to enable the sector to achieve its full potential.

While the new structures will provide for the development to county level of responsibilities for local tourism development, Bord Fáilte will continue to have responsibility for co-ordinating overseas marketing and promotion.

If we are to create much needed jobs in this country we must focus on our natural assets and what more natural asset have we than the tourism industry? It has been proven over the last number of years that more jobs have been created in the tourism industry than in any other. We are told that by the year 2000 the greatest single industry will be the leisure industry and to capitalise on this we must have our structures in place.

I can assure the Senator and the House that the points raised by him will be brought to the attention of the Minister for Tourism and Trade.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 6 May 1993.