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Seanad Éireann debate -
Friday, 7 Jul 1995

Vol. 144 No. 7

Package Holidays and Travel Trade Bill, 1995: Committee and Final Stages.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 are out of order as they are not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill as read a Second Time.


Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Section 1 (3) provides that the Act shall come into operation on a day to be ordered by the Minister. On Second Stage the Minister of State indicated that he did not envisage a delay of more than three months between the passing of the Bill and the date on which it will be brought into operation. Has he a particular date in mind? Many people arrange for winter holidays in September and perhaps the Minister might consider 1 September as an appropriate date to bring the legislation into operation.

I assure the Senator it is our intention to give the space required to the trade. I made the point on Second Stage that the trade should be given time to prepare for the new legislation. We considered a period of three months appropriate. I hope the legislation will be in operation by the end of September and that will allow for the new brochures for 1996, which appear around that time, to be covered by the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

Would the Minister define "occasionally" as used in section 3 (1)? The subsection states: "In this Act "organiser" means a person who, otherwise than occasionally, organises packages and sells or offers them for sale to a consumer, whether directly or through a retailer." Does "occasionally" mean once a year, twice a year or once every two years? It seems a loose term in the context of this section.

The intention is that people who are not professionally involved in organising outings on a constant regular basis would not be covered by the terms of the Bill. I could give the smart answer and say that "occasional" means "other than regular" but the question would arise as to what "regular" might mean. The intention is clear. We have had discussions with various youth organisations and others who were fearful they would be covered by the Bill when organising a scout outing or a pilgrimage to Knock. They will not and do not need to be covered by the terms of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 4 and 5 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

Section 6 deals with offences under the legislation. Section 6 (2) outlines the penalties for such offences and imprisonment is included in the penalties. The people of County Roscommon are very conscious of overcrowding in prisons and the lack of prison places. We are also aware the Government is considering alternatives to detention. Given that our prisons are so overcrowded at present, might it not be more appropriate to have alternatives to detention included as penalties?

I sympathise with the background circumstances to which the Senator alludes. We do not expect a large increase in the prison population arising from these measures. It is a good disincentive to breaking the law.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 7 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

Why was it felt that section 8 should not be stronger? The section would be strengthened considerably by the substitution of the word "shall" for "may", or if it was stated that the director shall, as a general rule, take the action set out in the section in the event of persons engaging in or proposing to engage in activities frowned on in the section. Why is it the Director of Consumer Affairs who is obliged under the section to make a decision in relation to the institution of proceedings? Might there be an obligation on the Director of Consumer Affairs to refer matters under this section to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a decision on the institution of proceedings?

We are satisfied the powers of the Director of Consumer Affairs, whose responsibility it would be to put the terms of the Bill into force and to police it, are sufficient to do so effectively. We did not feel it necessary to give him any additional powers and we hope that will prove to be correct.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 9 agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 9, subsection (1) (e), lines 11 and 12, to delete "formalities" and substitute "recommendations by the Department of Health".

I will not go back over the points I made on Second Stage as to the provisions of paragraph (e) concerning health not being nearly strong enough. Since the debate on Second Stage a friend of mine contacted a number of embassies, travel agencies and airlines from or dealing with popular tourist destinations, many of which have diseases not common in this country. Not one advised that any particular vaccinations or care should be taken by any person going to any of these destinations.

I do not wish to cause an international incident by naming the countries, but I can give the Minister the information later. However, I thought it incredible. Some of the countries have conditions which are not the same as those here and there is a great risk that visitors from Ireland could contract diseases there to which they would have no resistance or immunisation.

On Second Stage I referred to our poor record with regard to immunisations. It would at least be worthwhile for the brochures to advise that children should be immunised against diseases such as polio and diphtheria. Since around 30 per cent of our young people are no longer immune to hepatitis A, due to the fact that we have a good water supply, it might be worthwhile to suggest to those going to areas where such diseases are prevalent that they consider getting some form of immunisation.

It would at least have been worthwhile to have the Department of Health involved in giving us recommendations for these brochures. One could make emotive statements, like saying that the Ebola virus is only eight hours flying time away, but I do not think people will go to Zaire for their holidays. However, people go to other parts of the world where diseases exist to which we do not have exposure in this country and to which, therefore, we do not have a resistance. I do not see how only having these formalities will be of any help to anybody.

I previously raised the matter of not implementing the European Union Directives regarding information as to how people acquire HIV infection on foreign holidays. People's behaviour is generally modified by the sun and sometimes they may put themselves at more risk of contracting diseases abroad than they would at home. Even publications like the Bulletin of Medical Ethics suggests it is important for doctors to bring these matters to the attention of people when travelling abroad. The least we could do is try to get the Department of Health to give us some advice on this matter.

This is considered such a serious problem that an association of travel doctors was formed recently. I know there have been deaths from diseases contracted abroad, particularly from Falciparal malaria. People do not understand the various precautions one can take. Sometimes these are just ordinary precautions, like being careful with water in areas that have mosquitoes carrying malaria, wearing sleeves to one's wrists and wearing long trousers at night. These facts are not sufficiently known and this Bill is severely deficient with regard to travel brochures.

I do not want to force travel companies or agents to give detailed health regulations or to tell travellers to get certain vaccinations, but we could have gone further than this. Apart from the morality involved with sex tours abroad, many people think they will be at less risk of getting infected with HIV by acquiring younger partners. Of course, these children are often sold into sexual slavery. Their mothers may be drug addicts and, therefore, they may already be infected. Blood transmits HIV infection and one can imagine that with young children this is more likely to occur in these activities.

There is a lack of concern regarding health in this provision. I have met people who had problems that were often contracted in five star hotels where the hygiene was less than it should have been. Some sort of recommendation from the Department of Health would definitely be in order.

I support Senator Henry's amendment. While the price and accuracy of brochures are important, the risk posed to people's health, particularly young people, by the infections they could contract while abroad are important and should be highlighted. It would be appropriate if the Bill spelled out in detail obligations on tour operators to provide people going on holidays abroad with fuller information about health risks. The Bill should include recommendations by the Department of Health. Health risks in host countries should form part of the essential terms of the holiday contract and should be spelt out in greater detail. I fully support both of Senator Henry's amendments.

What Senator Henry said deserves much merit and support and perhaps further examination. There are certain do's and don'ts when one goes to certain places on holiday. Some of these are obvious, but hopefully they will not cost a person their life or cause them serious ill health. While we are made aware of vaccination procedures in some countries, there are other precautions about which one should be specifically forearmed and forewarned.

I was disturbed to hear Senator Henry say that certain embassies either did not want to know or refused to give her general advice — maybe they did not want to run down their own countries. One may be advised not to go out at certain times in some places for fear of being mugged or robbed. While that may make up a percentage of the potential dangers involved in some areas, there may be less chance of a mugging or robbery occurring in others than the chance of contracting a dangerous disease. Perhaps it should be suggested to the Department of Foreign Affairs that these embassies should furnish better information. People may take out travel insurance, but other matters could be included in travel brochures. Perhaps the Minister could look at this matter further with a view to changing this in the future.

I thank the Senators for tabling the amendment and I see it as a valuable addition to the debate. In this section we are trying to implement the directive as it is intended, which is ensuring that the person travelling abroad complies with the formalities required by the countries to which and across which they are travelling. What Senator Henry is saying is an expansion of that — that they should be informed before leaving of the dangers they may meet both travelling across or staying in a country.

It would not be fair to ask tour operators and travel agents to take on the whole gambit of the medical or health education that would be involved. However, it would be fair to ask my colleague, the Minister for Health, to get involved and to do that for people travelling abroad. We are asking the Minster for Health to ensure that people travelling abroad will have this information made available in the same way as it is done in the United Kingdom at the moment. All travel agents have leaflets available about the various health dangers in different countries and these are included in their packs. It is now an administrative matter between the two Departments and I will pursue that vigorously. On the basis of that, I ask Senator Henry to withdraw the amendment as tabled.

What the Minister has said is a great help. However, while I am no expert on European Union Directives, they are not one of the Ten Commandments. I have seen this happen with many other Bills. The Minister for Equality and Law Reform expanded equality legislation recently, some of it going far further than the directives from the European Union. The Copyright Bill, for example, goes far further than any European Union Directive. Therefore, these directives, while important, should not be considered the be all and end all.

I am glad to hear that the Minister will try to bring forward some sort of recommendations. As Senator Cosgrave said, we are warned about pickpockets but not that we might get a fatal disease. People who visit many countries and take prophylactic tablets against malaria may still get it. Some Irish people told me they took the tablets, but they still got malaria. Contracting malaria is more serious than getting one's pocket picked. The Minister for Health should ensure that brochures are given to people going abroad because going on an exotic holiday should not mean one gets an exotic disease.

I will withdraw the amendment because the Minister said he will do the best he can. However, EU directives are not an excuse to do something. We should introduce legislation as we desire and not only because the EU says we should.

I thank Senator Henry for her reasonable, helpful and useful approach to this matter. We must at least implement the directive, which is already late. It provides protection for travellers. Approximately 350,000 people go abroad every year and they need the additional protection in this Bill. I will take on board the points made by the Senator and I will be in contact again with my colleague about producing brochures and ensuring they are available.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 10 agreed to.
Section 11 agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendment No. 2 is out of order and amendment No. 3 has already been discussed with amendment No. 1.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 12 stand part of the Bill."

I understand that the Government is considering introducing legislation in this area. A further Bill is needed to provide for the concerns I have expressed. How long will it take to introduce such a Bill? I could bring in a Private Members' Bill, but its fate would not be as good as a Government Bill.

I support Senator Henry's amendments which were ruled out of order. This Bill gave us an opportunity to legislate against the use of children in prostitution and other unlawful sexual activities by people on holidays from this country. I was horrified to read an article in the Sunday Independent three weeks ago on Fr. Shay Cullen in the Philippines, who is actively lobbying for legislation in this regard. I understand that Australia, Germany, France and the United States have amended their Criminal Justice Acts, thereby making it illegal to buy or sell sex holidays abroad. However, Ireland or the UK have still not made it illegal to do so. I have already discussed this matter with the Minister, who said there was a Private Members' Bill before the Dáil which would deal with this issue. We should act quickly in this regard. If this matter is outside the scope of the Bill, when will another one be introduced to deal with it effectively?

I thank the Senators for their contributions and for tabling these amendments, which I was not able to accept on foot of strong advice from the law officer. At the request of the Taoiseach, the Government is examining this area and the need for legislation. However, I do not know when such legislation will be implemented. It is highly unlikely that my office will be implementing it; it will either be the Department of Justice or the Department of Health. The advice I have is so strong that it would be appropriate to examine this matter fully before the legislation is implemented. Legislation in other countries, to which the Senators referred, will also be examined to see how it operates. That is part of the examination currently taking place. In fairness to the Government and the Attorney General, this examination began before these amendments were tabled. There is a Private Members' Bill before the other House which will come here in due course. That will give this House an opportunity to discuss the matter in more detail. I do not know when the Government will introduce its own legislation.

There is some misunderstanding about what I want. The Bill before the other House deals with sexual offences committed abroad being triable in this State. Although that matter should also be considered, I am looking for something more simple. Advertising such holidays in Exchange and Mart is astonishing. It is unbelievable that we cannot put a stop to this at once. The excuse given to me by one person who must have been involved was that the child had been brought in by his mother. That would not be considered an excuse anywhere for allowing such activities to take place. I hope the Government will consider this as a matter of urgency. The Bill proposed by Deputy O'Donoghue and Deputy E. Ryan does not deal with this issue. It deals with sexual offences being triable in this State and it has nothing to do with advertising in brochures.

I appreciate the difference between Senator Henry's amendments and the Bill in the other House, but I see a connection between the two. I presume the Attorney General is examining this area.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 13 to 28, inclusive, agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendment No. 4 is out of order.

Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 29 stand part of the Bill."

I thank the Minister and those who supported my concerns. It is astonishing that people can go abroad and behave in such a manner when it is a crime in this country.

The Minister said this legislation would probably be introduced by a different Minister. Perhaps he could assure me that it will prohibit the advertising of such holidays and that it will have jurisdiction over tour operators.

Without expanding on what I have already said, I assure the Senators not only of my support for what they are saying but also of my support until this matter is given legislative effect. It is illegal for anyone who is a citizen of this State to sell or participate in such holidays.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 30 to 34, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill."

How many member states have enacted legislation to implement the directive on package holidays?

I understand six member states have done so.

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 July 1995.