Some time ago concern was expressed by those who run bed and breakfast accommodation, particularly registered bed and breakfast accommodation, that the Government intended to impose commercial rates on their properties. This rumour has been going around for many years but it appeared to gain some weight recently, particularly in view of the Valuation Bill. I received a barrage of letters from people involved in the provision of bed and breakfast accommodation expressing concern at the possibility of being brought into the commercial rates net under the Bill.
In the past week the Government appeared to withdraw this proposal. However, the Department informed me that the proposal has not be withdrawn but is being re-examined in light of the Valuation Bill. The proposal has not gone away and there is still a possibility that commercial rates will be introduced for bed and breakfast accommodation.
We need to consider the contribution which bed and breakfast accommodation has made to tourism and the economy in general. Coming from the west, I recognise the value and the contribution which this sector has made since the foundation of the State when tourism was in its infancy and when hotels were limited in number and quality. The State itself had to establish the Great Southern Hotel Group to ensure certain standards were met.
As a result of deficiencies in the accommo dation sector, much of the tourism industry centered on these small houses scattered throughout the State in which families would provide accommodation. They benefited from it, getting money over the three short months of the tourism season. What did they do with that money? Those living outside the university towns used the money they made during the summer to help their children to attend university and to live in the towns in which the colleges were located. Where did those children live in those towns? In other bed and breakfasts. The bed and breakfast sector made a contribution to education as well as to tourism. That still happens today.
Many tourists do not want to stay in impersonal hotels, they want to meet the people. Very often they come back to the same bed and breakfasts which have been so friendly in the past. When a person books into a bed and breakfast, they do not meet a receptionist who comes out with the spiel he or she has learnt at a regional college, they are given a personal welcome by the home owner. Those people are made to feel like members of the family. The family acts as an information bureau for tourists, telling them where to go, where to eat and what to see. The personal touch, our unique Irish hospitality, was a product of the bed and breakfast industry.
One could say that if they are making money, they should be taxed. Tax concessions have been given for the development of substantial hotels throughout the State. Small approved bed and breakfasts should be in the same category by not being brought into the commercial rates bracket. Tax benefits are granted to hotels and other tourist facilities, why not to the backbone of Irish hospitality?
There are many bed and breakfast establishments scattered throughout the west and south west. Most of them are in small towns which have no hotels or only a very small hotel. We must try to ensure that when tourists arrive, the smallest towns, villages and farmhouses receive a share of the wealth generated. The only way to do that is through an assurance that bed and breakfasts will be able to survive.
If the commercial rate is introduced, many of the people running such establishments will simply shut them down. There is only a short season and they do not make a substantial amount of money in that time. They pay their taxes and also pay fees to Bord Fáilte to ensure standards are maintained. If commercial rates are introduced, it is highly likely that these premises will have to pay commercial electricity prices. It will ensure the demise of an industry which has sustained tourism in the State and which still has a major role to play.
I hope the Government will guarantee that it will not introduce commercial rates for small family homes in the Valuation Bill.