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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Nov 2011

Vol. 211 No. 15

National Tourism Development Authority (Amendment) Bill 2011: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.

The National Tourism Development (Amendment) Bill 2011 provides for an increase in the level of capital funding which can be voted to the National Tourism Development Authority, Fáilte Ireland, for the purpose of supporting tourism product development. Before moving on to the detail of the Bill, I acknowledge that contributors to the debate in the Dáil all commented on the importance of the tourism sector. The tourism and hospitality sector continues to be a major force in the economy, providing an estimated 180,000 jobs. It brings revenues into every part of the country and provides job opportunities for people across a range of skill levels. The estimate for expenditure in 2010 by overseas visitors, including carrier receipts, is approximately €3.4 billion. In addition, estimated spending on domestic tourism in 2010 was €1.3 billion, making the total spending on tourism in the national economy in the region of €4.7 billion. In terms of tourism performance, after a number of very successful years of growth, Ireland saw a reduction in overseas visitors in the second half of 2008, which continued into 2009 and 2010. Ireland was not unique in this regard as travel worldwide was affected by the global economic slowdown.

During the Dáil debate on the Bill, it was evident that Members were aware the tourism industry in Ireland has seen a welcome return to growth in 2011. I am pleased to be able to advise Senators that based on the most recent figures available, this trend has continued, which is very good news. For instance, in the first nine months of this year, visits from North America have increased by almost 11%. Visits from Great Britain have increased by more than 7% when compared with the same period in 2010. Notably, visits from other long-haul markets increased by 15% and visits from mainland European countries increased by more than 12%. Clearly, comparisons with the first half of 2010 are distorted by the impact on travel of severe weather in the earlier part of the year, as well as the volcanic ash between March and May of last year. However, the increase in overseas travel to Ireland is not solely due to the recovery of business lost due to the volcanic ash and weather issues of 2010. In fact, numbers from North America and from other long-haul markets are almost back to 2008 levels. Furthermore, Ireland is outperforming other European destinations in the key Great Britain market and is gaining market share. The figures are only available for the United Kingdom as a whole but they show that growth in travel from the United Kingdom to the EU-15 countries during the first nine months of 2011 stood at 2%, as against a growth of 7% from Great Britain to Ireland.

In addition, people appear to be holidaying at home in greater numbers this year and I commend them on their support for the domestic tourism industry. As yet, there are no official figures for performance of the domestic market. In that regard, Fáilte Ireland's tourism barometer for September 2011 is of interest. The barometer measures sentiment in the industry and according to the survey, 54% of hotels are reporting an increase in domestic volume. The caravan and camping sectors also report healthy domestic visitor levels, as do the self-catering and hostel sectors. These figures are heartening and the challenge will be to maintain this growth. While excellent work is being done at present in promoting Ireland at home and abroad as a holiday destination, we must ensure the quality and competitiveness of the Irish tourism offering is continually improved and that the industry generates increased earnings and more jobs as part of the economic recovery. The Government is playing its part through measures such as the VAT cut, reduced employers' PRSI and the visa waiver scheme to support competitiveness, as well as key investments to upgrade Ireland's tourism products and attractions.

The Bill under consideration today is a technical adjustment to existing legislation but is important in facilitating the continued support for capital investment in the tourism product. The decision of the Minister for Finance earlier this year to reduce to 9% the level of VAT that applies to a range of labour-intensive tourism services provided much-needed support to tourism businesses. The reduction was introduced until the end of 2013 but will be reviewed before the end of 2012. I am pleased that the Restaurants Association and the Hotels Federation strongly encouraged their members to pass on the VAT cut to their customers. The Government also helped businesses to enhance their position in the international tourism marketplace by significantly reducing the cost of employing people by halving employers' PRSI for those on modest wages. The visa waiver scheme, perhaps the most radical change in Irish immigration policy or practice since the coming of the Single Market, shows that the Government is serious about doing everything it can to support the tourism sector.

While the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, confirmed recently that the Government has decided to retain the €3 travel tax, pending a further review next spring, a significant proportion of the revenues taken in from the travel tax is being used to support inbound tourism. This support saw significant additional funding being used for co-operative marketing with airlines, airports, ferry companies and tour operators on inbound routes into Ireland. It focused in particular on opportunities to enhance access from the British regions, the United States, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Based upon the latest figures of overseas visitors it appears that these efforts are bearing fruit.

The Government's support programme for capital investment in tourism product is provided through Fáilte Ireland's tourism capital investment programme. The programme has operated on the basis of three broad strands: first, the development of new attractions and the upgrade of existing visitor attractions; second, the development of tourism infrastructure, primarily through supporting local authorities to develop appropriate facilities for tourists, including walking and cycling routes, jetties and moorings, angling stands, access routes to areas of scenic interest, and signposting and orientation facilities in heritage and historic towns; and, third, the development of outdoor and other active pursuits such as water-sports, boat rental, equestrian, horse riding facilities and so on In summary, the aim of the investment programme is to provide the necessary public infrastructure to help develop tourism as well as providing sustainable visitor attractions which match the expectations of the international visitor.

During the debate on this Bill in the Dáil, Deputies referred to the many features that make Ireland attractive as a holiday destination — our scenery, beaches, historic towns and our people. Many Deputies referred to their own areas, and I expect many Senators will do likewise, and to the many tourism attractions that exist throughout the length and breadth of the country. They also discussed the efforts made by ordinary people through such excellent programmes as the Tidy Towns scheme to ensure their local areas continue to be beautiful places to live and to visit. Many of these attractions and programmes have benefited from funding received by Fáilte Ireland and other State agencies.

Ireland has an excellent range of attractions. It has an excellent tourism product but the Government, the industry and all citizens must continue to work together to ensure that this continues to be the case. During the debate on the Bill in the Dáil, Deputies outlined the scope for investment across the country for investment in gardens, historic sites and monuments, walks, cycling routes and projects to provide for those rainy days with which we are all familiar. That is why I consider this Bill to be important legislation. It will facilitate investment to ensure that tourism makes its contribution to economic recovery and provides much needed jobs across all regions and counties.

Naturally, as with most funding schemes, there are many more applicants than there is capital funding available and I am sure Senators, like their Dáil colleagues, will be aware of many projects that might benefit from this funding. Under the National Tourism Development Authority Act 2003, responsibility for the management of tourism-related funding programmes has been devolved to Fáilte Ireland, which considers applications for funding based on the tourism benefits that each proposal will provide. To achieve the best use of public funding, it is crucially important that the limited funding is put towards the projects that will have the most effective impact on tourism both in terms of increased visitor numbers and the enhancement of the visitor experience. In this regard, the Fáilte Ireland executive undertakes a full appraisal process, including financial evaluations, legal and other due diligence of all applications made under the programme. When the evaluation has been completed, the Fáilte Ireland executive brings the application before a capital investment appraisal group, which has been established to examine proposals and make recommendations on funding. The group includes external experts with particular expertise in financial appraisal and economics, together with Fáilte Ireland's chief executive and a representative of my Department. Final approval of the appraisal group's recommendation is made by the Fáilte Ireland Authority.

In the initial years of the programme from 2007 to 2008, Fáilte Ireland targeted infrastructure provision by local authorities such as walking and cycling routes, beach management works, access to angling waters and so on. It also supported the historic towns initiative for walking routes in designated towns of historic merit. A total of €23 million was allocated to Fáilte Ireland in those years for these projects.

In the following years, the focus expanded to include the provision of support for re-investment in major tourist visitor attractions and the development of facilities for visitor activities. Notable projects that have been allocated or approved for grant aid to date include Dublinia, Waterford Viking Triangle, Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal, Athlone Castle, Mizen Head Bridge in west Cork, Mayo Greenway and King John's Castle in Limerick. In total from 2009 to date, 45 projects have been approved for funding of just under €76 million. The level of outstanding commitments under the programme means that the current legislative limit on the funds advanced to Fáilte Ireland will no longer be sufficient. This gives rise to the need for the Bill before the House which I will now outline in more detail.

The National Tourism Development Authority Act was passed in 2003 to dissolve Bord Fáilte Éireann and CERT Limited and establish the National Tourism Development Authority, Fáilte Ireland. Section 24(1) of that Act gives the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, the power to advance, out of money provided by the Oireachtas, such sums as the Minister may determine. Section 24(2) limits the amount of money that can be advanced by the Minister to Fáilte Ireland as capital expenditure on projects or enterprises to €65 million.

Since its establishment in 2003 to the end of 2010, a total of €44.411million has been advanced to Fáilte Ireland in regard to capital expenditure on projects or enterprises. This leaves a total of just €20 million available to be advanced to Fáilte Ireland before amending legislation is required. It is anticipated that expenditure in 2011 and 2012 is likely to exceed the existing cap and this necessitates an increase in the limit.

My Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have agreed a new legislative cap of €150 million, based on this year's allocation and possible future allocations. The amount will meet the provisions in the Government's capital framework programme and allow Fáilte Ireland to incur the expenditure envisaged in that framework for tourism capital investment.

I am bringing forward this short Bill to make the necessary legislative change and I commend it to the Seanad.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have observed him to be a man of great energy and to have a very positive outlook. Those are qualities which are eminently suitable for a person representing Ireland in the world of international tourism.

We in Fianna Fáil will support the Bill. It is quite sensible. The current cap is close to being exceeded and will be in the very near future. The figure of €150 million appears to be reasonably realistic and those of us on this side of the House have always supported infrastructural investment, particularly in tourism. The Minister of State's figures are about right compared with the original estimate or cap for the Irish film Board of €4 million which has now jumped to €20 million, which is a realistic and logical figure.

Investment in tourism capital infrastructure is important. The tourism product development strategy 2007 to 2013 placed major emphasis on capital infrastructural works subject to an audit on all existing tourism products, events and activities. The Irish tourism industry is at a critical point, as the Minister of State will appreciate. We have had several years of decline, particularly in the year when we had the volcanic ash cloud, but the figures for July to September of this year are quite positive. I was glad to hear the Minister of State say that trend appears to be continuing. However, we cannot rest on our laurels because anecdotal evidence at least shows there are difficulties throughout the year in terms of the UK market despite the figures the Minister of State gave. That is the anecdotal evidence I hear from people in the industry in County Kerry and that is worrying because UK visitors were always an important segment of our tourism market.

It is difficult to see how we can achieve growth in tourism at a time of global recession. That is the reason we welcome this Bill all the more because it indicates that the Government is moving in the right direction and will provide moneys for essential important products.

Other concerns are Government-made. Despite the improvement in the VAT regime for the tourism industry, I am concerned about the proposal to inflict the first four weeks of sick pay on employers. This would have a serious negative impact on labour-intensive industries such as the hotel industry. I can see it being a major problem if the Government proceeds with it. It was shocking and sad to read in this morning's newspapers that Ashford Castle in the Minister of State's constituency had gone into receivership. It is a flagship hotel which offers a great service and has outstanding staff. If it is in trouble, will there be many more behind?

The Senator is a frequent visitor to Ashford Castle.

That is right.

I will not repeat the Minister's figures, but the overseas spend is €3.4 billion, while the domestic spend is €1.3 billion. Unlike other industries which tend to be Dublin centred, tourism is spread throughout the regions. Remote areas such as those from which the Minister of State and I come can hold their own. The overall comparison between the regions and Dublin favours the regions, which is no harm. Dublin is a thriving tourism destination. The same is true of other urban centres such as Galway and Kilkenny.

Apart from mainstream employment, tourism provides many opportunities to engage in part-time employment which helps students to get through college and provides housewives with casual work. A thriving industry also engenders a great spirit of community. The Minister of State referred to the Tidy Towns competition, for which towns make an extra effort. It engenders a welcoming spirit in a community, a very important element.

I trawled through the Dáil debate on the Bill which stretched to 50 full pages and every Deputy who spoke seemed to have a wish list for the Minister of State. I do not think we will hold him as long in the Seanad. However, being from County Kerry, I must mention one or two items, on which I am sure my colleague, Senator Tom Sheahan, will agree with me. Kerry is the premier tourism destination. However, we are concerned about inward access. I mentioned the following matter to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, when he came to the House for a different debate. Kerry Airport provides an essential lifeline for tourism in the south-west region. What would be equally important, if we could get it working, is the Cork to Swansea ferry which is in dry dock until next April. I hope it will be able to ply for trade in the months from April to September. However, it will need hands-on assistance from the Department. I understand competition issues arise, but there must be a way around these in order that the Government can become involved in an essential service which underpins much tourism activity in the region.

People in County Kerry have a confidence which comes from experience. Not all, but 99% of tourism events and products in the county give back more than they receive and it is well worth investing in them. They include events such as Listowel Writers' Week which is not as big as the Rose of Tralee Festival, but it draws many people in a niche market to the county and the country. We also have St. John's Art Centre and the Seanchaí Centre. Some were driven by the Minister of State's colleague, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, when he was a backbencher and they are all very successful. There is no fear of the Department not receiving value for money if it was to invest in Kerry tourism products. There are a couple of white elephants in the county which are probably symptomatic of the madness of the Celtic tiger years when we threw money at products which one could have seen at the time would never be feasible in the long run.

In stating my support for the Bill and extra investment, I urge the Minister of State to be careful and investigate rigorously each application received to ensure a product is viable and to know the management structures and business plans of those behind it. The Department should examine successful centres such as the Book of Kells centre, Brú Ború in which my colleague, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, is involved, Killarney House and Muckross House, in which Senator Paul Coghlan is involved. These are all good templates. However, for every good application there might another which does not stand up to scrutiny.

This is a good time to pursue capital projects because construction costs are much lower than they were and, God knows, labour is easy enough to find. I regret the fact that the Government has cut the capital budget by €750 million at a time when it will not help the Minister of State in his work and could cost up to 9,000 jobs. The previous Government was prepared to make a cut of only of 50% of this amount. At the time it was considered to be swingeing and I wonder whether we have gone too far now. I hope not.

The question is often asked: why would people come to Ireland? Clearly, it is not for the weather. They come here because of our people, attitude and friendliness. It can be disconcerting at times for people to go into hotels, restaurants and bars and be served by foreign nationals, but the essential welcome of the Irish is still on offer in management and comes across in the spirit and ethos.

Getting value for money is very important. Recently, I read that bed night costs in Dublin hotels had decreased by 10% in the past 12 months and this is great. However, it is appalling that when a rock star such as Bruce Springsteen comes to town or a major match takes place, the cost of bed and breakfast accommodation increases from €65 to more than €200. There is absolutely no justification for this.

There will be certain opportunities which I know the Minister of State will grasp. The lead-up to the 1916 Rising commemoration has huge tourism potential. Obviously, we will commemorate these important events with the solemnity and dignity they deserve, but we can lighten up a little. In the United States Independence Day is celebrated on 4 July and it is a fun day. We could turn commemorations into an opportunity to welcome home the Diaspora. We must get the balance right between showing respect and making a holiday of the occasion.

I am disappointed by the resignation of Mr. Hickey from the group established to find a spin-off for Ireland from the London Olympics. Will the Minister of State comment on this because the commentary so far in the media has been negative. What is going on? Surely there is huge potential. The individual in question has been around for a long time and speaks his mind. Senator Eamonn Coghlan referred to the matter on the Order of Business.

I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister of State for his efforts.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an teach seo arís. Tá sé ag déanamh obair iontach ar son tionscal turasóireachta na tíre. The Minister of State has demonstrated a great appetite and enthusiasm in his portfolio and I wish him continued success.

This is a short Bill but one which will encourage great debate. We are living in times of great economic constraints and restraint. The Bill relates to the very important industry of tourism and seeks to increase the level of funding for the National Tourism Development Authority, or Fáilte Ireland, from €65 million to €150 million for the purposes of supporting enterprises and projects to increase tourist traffic and the development of tourism facilities and services throughout the country.

Tourism will play a significant part in our economic recovery in the coming years. It is the single biggest industry in the world and it is our duty to ensure we continue to vigorously maintain and develop the enormous tourism potential of the island of Ireland. We all have a duty and a part to play in this regard.

In 2007, some 7.7 million visitors came to Ireland, while in 2010 this figure was reduced to approximately 5.5 million. The Government has taken measures to address this through a reduction of VAT, reducing employers' PRSI, and changes in the system of visa applications for people who want to visit our country. These changes are most welcome and have helped to increase the number of visitors this year to Ireland.

American and Continental visitor numbers have increased this year by 15% to 16% but visitor numbers from Great Britain, our nearest neighbour and our biggest market, have only increased by 8%. We must identify the issues and reasons for this in the short term and review our marketing strategy at an early date.

One major issue which needs to be addressed to promote growth in the tourism sector is the cost of holidaying in Ireland compared to holidaying in our European counterparts. Many airlines offer low-cost flights to European cities, some for as little as €20. Meanwhile, many cross-country buses and trains are extremely expensive and costs need to be lowered for Ireland to compete in this part of the tourism market. A one-way ticket from Galway to Dublin costs the customer on average €34.50, which is nearly €70 euro for a return ticket. In addition, one has accommodation costs which are usually on average around €100 per person per night. This is compared to holiday deals in locations such as the Algarve, which costs €239 for seven nights including accommodation. This is an up-to-date example quoted to a constituent of mine only this week. These prices are highly competitive and have the ability to draw tourists abroad instead of allowing them the choice to holiday in Ireland.

Evidence from the Fáilte Ireland's "Tourism Facts 2010" suggests that most of our travelling overseas tourists came from Britain and mainland Europe. This is obviously due to cheap air fares and accessibility. However, if we want to increase the number of people visiting Ireland we must do something about the price of our hotels and guesthouses, as Senator O'Sullivan mentioned earlier.

In addition to this, many tourist destinations around Ireland tend to increase their prices dramatically when there is an event on in their area. According to the Irish Independent of 25 November, a Dublin hotel, which shall remain nameless, doubled its room prices as soon as Bruce Springsteen announced a forthcoming concert. It raised its room rates from €119 to €250 for the night of the concert at the RDS, which incidentally does not take place until 17 July next year. Nonetheless the hotel has already advertised these prices. Something must be done to tackle this issue and perhaps the regulation of hotel costs would help. Our goal should be trying to get more tourists into Ireland rather than driving them away with high costs. Why would somebody come to Ireland to see Bruce Springsteen in Dublin, if they can travel to Spain to see the same concert and not have the burden of outrageous accommodation prices? Since the Celtic tiger when prices soared, Ireland has become known across the board as an expensive country. We do not want to be seen as ripping tourists off, but offering them value for money and a memorable holiday.

I have no doubt — neither has the Minister of State — that throughout our beautiful country we have a tourism product that is second to none. From Donegal to Cork, and from my own county of Louth to Kerry, all areas have a wide variety of tourist attractions, in abundance, to offer the most discerning visitor. Tourism is a labour intensive industry with approximately 180,000 sustainable jobs, as the Minister of State said. Our hotel and catering staff are highly trained and efficient. A hotel employing from 80 to 100 people is invaluable to any local economy, so we must endeavour to maintain and protect these jobs.

All our respective areas and regions have something special to offer visitors. In this respect, I recognise the part played by tidy towns groups throughout the country. We receive favourable remarks from visitors who like to see our towns kept in good condition. I would hate to see what our towns and countryside would be like if not for the work of the tidy towns movement. For more than 40 years, I have been involved in that movement and know that litter continues to be a black spot for visitors in many parts. That is a reflection on our nation and our people as a whole. Many of us have a part to play in being responsible and not littering the streets of towns and cities. What a saving it would mean if we did not have to sweep up in many beauty spots that area being littered by ourselves.

It would be remiss of me not to mention my own home county of Louth, which has a new brand name "Land of legends and full of life". In 2009, the Louth Economic Forum was established under the auspices of the Louth County Development Board. This forum is chaired by an independent chairman, Mr. Pauric White, a former CEO of the IDA and Senator Mary White's husband. The forum has an overall ten-point plan identifying ten specific areas within its work programme over the next three years. Its vision is to capitalise on Louth's unique location as the hub for the Boyne Valley as well as the Cooley, Mournes and Slieve Gullian region, which are two of Fáilte Ireland's top tourist development destinations.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to the House once again. It is great to have him back and I wish him continued success in his important work. As the Minister of State said in his address, this technical Bill aims to increase the amount of money that can be allocated to Fáilte Ireland to provide more state-of-the-art tourism facilities and a corresponding infrastructure. On the last occasion the Minister of State attended the House, I spoke about the unique tourism product we have in Ireland, which cannot be matched by any other country. As we live here, we may be inclined to take what we have for granted, thus not appreciate what lies outside our own front door. I lived abroad for a while and on returning home I began to appreciate exactly what kind of tourism product we have.

I am sure not many visitors to the country would forget the approach when arriving. I often recall the plane emerging from the clouds approaching Shannon Airport and seeing the fantastic patchwork landscape underneath. I have not seen that type of landscape in any other country I have travelled to, and I have travelled to a few.

Peru struck me in thinking about how proper tourism infrastructure can be a significant revenue generator for an economy. I do not want to upset any Peruvians that might be in the Visitors' Gallery — there might not be too many — but that country does not have much to offer except for its tourist product. What it has to offer is not a patch on what we have here. In the museum next door there are bog bodies and the Ardagh chalice, and one can go from there to the hills and lakes of Kerry, as was mentioned so eloquently by Senator O'Sullivan. The Burren is in Clare and there are writers and poets in Dublin, along with Glasnevin Cemetery and Croke Park. Donegal has Slieve League as mentioned in the speech, and Louth is the land of legends, as noted by Senator Brennan. There are certainly a couple of legends from Louth in this House.

The Senator is a legend.

In my constituency there is the mystical Lough Gur and Ballyhoura mountain bike trails. There are also various festivals taking place in many towns and villages throughout the country. I could go on but it is vital we use this resource as best we can, getting the best return from it, especially given our current economic position. This summer I travelled a good deal of the country and I echo what previous speakers have said, particularly with regard to the VAT rate. I know the hotel and restaurant federations have asked that the savings be passed to the customer but I am not sure if that is happening to a significant extent. The issue should be considered again for enforcement purposes.

I congratulate the Minister of State for bringing this Bill before the House and although funding may not be readily available, this Bill will allow the Government, when the time comes, to invest in the tourism infrastructure. I support the Bill's passage through the House.

I am delighted to have the Minister of State in the House as he has the bubble of energy for tourism. I know how strongly he feels about it. I grew up with the tourism business and my father built Red Island holiday camp in 1947 and I spent 13 years in that business. One message I would like the Minister of State to get across comes from the business I learned on that occasion. It is that everything done at that time was aimed to get the customer to return. At my father's holiday camp, the customer paid on the day of arrival and there were no further charges and the customer did not need to carry any more money. Everything was included. The only way to judge success was if the guest came up to my father at the end of the week and said he or she would return the following year. We must convince everybody in Ireland that tourism is about taking the long-term approach and asking how to get people to say they will come back next year.

I spent five years as chairman of the St. Patrick's festival in Dublin and during those years we managed to increase the festivities from one day to three, although that was Government policy and I do not take credit for it. It is amazing how one can identify this festival; some Japanese have told me that if they had an event like St. Patrick's day, they would use it to such an extent that the whole world would know about. We have it and we must ensure we use it.

The Minister of State did not really touch on food tourism. Fáilte Ireland indicated to me last year that it recognised that people on holidays spent approximately four or five hours each day at a table, and what they eat and drink plays a large part in their trip. Some parts of the country are booming as a result of this, particularly Kinsale, Waterford and where I come from in Howth, which has so many restaurants, tapas bars and other places to eat. This will provide encouragement.

What is missing from the proposal is a strategic plan for tourism development. There is no strategic plan currently and the last strategic plan was formulated in 2003. The world has changed much since, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the recent capital spending programme, dealing with 2012 to 2016. Tourism is set to receive €81 million but that is a repackaging of previous commitments. Some of the decisions and major projects, such as the Book of Kells visitor centre in Trinity College, the Viking triangle in Waterford, the great western green way in Mayo, King John's castle and the Limerick river side, as well as Derrynane House in Killarney, were dealt with a good while ago. They are not new and I am a little sceptical of attempts to frame this as a new investment in tourism.

I am also concerned that the planned investment in higher education for the sector has been put on hold indefinitely. The Dublin Institute of Technology move to Grangegorman has been stalled and the planned development of a new hospitality, tourism and culinary arts building at the institute of technology in Tallaght has also been deferred. I spoke recently to Mr. Raymond Keaney, the lecturer in tourism and hospitality in Tallaght. A great job is being done in those areas but it is a step backwards not to invest in the sector. Why does Ireland not have a world class hospitality and tourism infrastructure in higher education, or an Irish Cornell Hotel School equivalent? The only place we have that is close is Ballymaloe, and I understand from Ms Darina Allen that people are queuing up in London for graduates from the Ballymaloe school. They just walk into jobs because they are so highly regarded. We need investment in the sector.

I call on the Minister of State to work on a new strategic plan for the future. Australia developed a plan in 2009, addressing issues such as excellence in products and service delivery to ensure a high-value destination, measuring performance to track progress and support strategic priorities. Investment would be facilitated along with regulatory reform to ensure the product remains competitive in the global market. The market should note such plans and a strategy should be formulated by a much wider range of interest groups, including opinion leaders and advisory bodies. There should be development from previous plans involving hospitality, tourism, retail, arts and culture, transport, food, heritage, environment, agriculture and the marine, technology and education. Bodies involved should include chambers of commerce, local authorities, media, the ESRI and Forfás.

The Seanad would be the ideal venue to start a debate on a new strategic plan for tourism, and perhaps that is what we are having today. We need to act now as international tourist arrivals worldwide are set to almost double from 952 million in 2010 to 1.8 billion within 18 years. The EU is supporting initiatives for the tourism industry for the first time and we should not be left behind. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's view on developing a strategic plan in that regard.

Will the Minister of State indicate how he is helping tourism businesses move to the digital age and find out the many possibilities available if they improve knowledge of information technology? Will some of the funding mentioned by the Minister of State be diverted in this way? There is a project entitled Digital Tourism Wales, which seeks to assist tourism businesses and supporting organisations in adapting new technology to meet visitor expectations and become more competitive in the market as a result. For example, money will be available to help businesses in the web 2.0 current, and new applications, such as Google Places, can be used to make businesses more visible. There is much we can learn from other countries by examining what they are doing.

This is an appropriate time to raise again the state of the National Archives. They are part of the tourism business. Not only do they hold much of our history but they present a great opportunity in terms of people who come to this country to trace their roots, in particular from America and across the Atlantic. The buildings are in a bad state. I hope the Minister of State is examining solutions to the problem. Options also arise with buildings under the remit of NAMA that might be appropriate to house this vital resource. We cannot let it deteriorate further because of the many opportunities it presents.

There are other things we can do. I congratulate RTE which made a series of programme last year called "Tracks and Trails". It is doing it again this year. The series focused on six areas last year and another six will be chosen this year. I was involved in the programme on Howth. I learned a great deal about Howth but I also learned how broadcasting such programmes encourages internal tourism. It is only a half hour programme but I spoke to one man who had brought out a bus load of tourists just to walk the tracks and trails around Howth. The group of 35 ate in a local restaurant — there is a great selection of restaurants here. That was brought about by RTE sponsoring Mr. Jim Sherwin to produce the "Tracks and Trails" series.

RTE also did a good job in Drogheda. Senator Brennan referred to County Louth. He tended to focus on north Louth rather than south Louth. A man called Mr. Noel Toolan has put his heart and soul into reminding everyone that Drogheda is on the Boyne and it is the bedroom for the tourism business of the Boyne Valley. It is a reminder that RTE, a State agency, is able to do something in its public service broadcasting mission and in the case of that series it is doing a very good job.

The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, has his heart in the right place and the correct objectives. Let us ensure we do not lose this opportunity.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and compliment him on the job he is doing. As other Members have stated, his enthusiasm and energy is well noted in the tourism sector.

The Bill is to be welcomed. It shows that the Government intends that one of the cornerstones that will bring this country out of recession is tourism. It is making provision for that, on which I compliment the Government, rather than doing it in a rushed manner, off the cuff.

Senators referred to the disappointing number of visitors from Great Britain. I spoke to a hotelier in my part of County Kerry recently and asked him how business was going during the year. He said he had a very good year. When I asked where the majority of tourists had come from, he said it was Great Britain. I asked him how he had achieved that. He replied that the hotel chain opened an office in Great Britain and it had its own ambassadors on the ground selling its hotels and County Kerry. The endeavour was very successful. I am a firm advocate of that type of ambassadorial approach rather than spending millions on television advertisements. That approach does not work for me. It would not entice me to go somewhere. I am much more impressed when I meet someone who talks up an area and portrays its beauty and positive characteristics.

I will not reveal outside the House that I never knew where Haggardstown was until Senator Jim D'Arcy was elected to the House. Not only do I know about Haggardstown now, I know about Sexton's in Haggardstown. If we can take that approach abroad there is significant potential, especially in the UK which is just across the water. One can get there in an hour.

Should we export Senator D'Arcy?

It would be a great achievement if we could introduce that model of having ambassadors on the ground selling this country and the positive things about it. I urge the Minister of State to push that approach if he can.

I am pleased about the assessment process for the tourism capital investment programme. A capital investment appraisal group has been set up. I am also pleased to see the checks and balances that have been put in place. The issue has been raised several times recently as to whether we got value for money. My colleague, Senator O'Sullivan, referred to white elephants that exist not only in Kerry but throughout the country that were developed under tourism capital investment projects. I welcome the appraisal group and the checks and balances that have been introduced between the group, the Department and Fáilte Ireland. Between financial evaluations, due diligence and legal requirements the assessment of projects is well covered.

I note that the capital investment programme includes beach management works. On his next trip to Kerry the Minister of State must come to Rossbeigh where 3 acres of sand dunes have been washed away. The community is not being allowed to reinstate them as it is being prevented from doing so by the local authority on the basis that nature is taking its course. If nature has its way then a mile and a half of sand dunes will disappear. I accept that ultimate responsibility probably lies with the Office of Public Works but the Minister of State must come and see what has happened given that capital investment programmes include beach management works.

Kerry has had a good year in tourism. There is no point in beating around the bush. One could never please some people in the tourism sector. We will take that with a pinch of salt. One area however that is letting us down is conferences. I spoke recently to the president of Killarney Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Randles, who is a hotelier. He said there is great potential for conferences in south Kerry especially and the south of Ireland, but the one big problem is access from Cork to Kerry. The N21, which has a bypass at Macroom, is a poor road. He said that they have collected people who plan conferences from Cork Airport and by the time they get to Macroom they have made up their minds that they will not go to Kerry for the conference. I encourage the Minister of State to do anything he can. The N21 artery into the county is blocking further potential growth in tourism. I commend the Minister of State.

I wish to share time with Senator Marc MacSharry.

Because of the speakers offering I have requested that the Leader of the House extend the time for the debate by a few minutes. I accept the Minister of State is unaware of that yet. I await a response from the Leader. If Senator Ó Murchú still wishes to share, I advise him that another ten minutes would accommodate all speakers offering.

I wish to share time with Senator Marc MacSharry.

I welcome the Minister of State. We agree with the terms of the Bill. From experience we have all seen Fáilte Ireland and its predecessor, Bord Fáilte, make an exceptional contribution to the development of tourism here. Likewise, Tourism Ireland, covering the whole island, is doing exactly the same. Many would say tourism is the jewel in our crown because it has been so good to Ireland. It has generated finance from visitors and through domestic spending. We see an increase in domestic spending, particularly during the current recession when people are spending their holidays and money at home which keeps revenue within the State.

Tourism is not a single entity or product. It is made up of diverse and varied elements which make Ireland attractive as a tourist destination. When we speak about sustaining and developing the industry, we must remember the number of players involved. We need to give all of them a voice, which is what we are doing today. We are endeavouring to reflect this and echo what we are hearing on the ground.

It was sad to see that our value for money rating had dropped from 62% to 28% in 2009. However, we did not need a survey to show us this. We felt it ourselves and knew that was the position. We might not have been killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, but neither were we feeding it too well or looking after it. We must continue to be cautious in this regard. I know of a particular part of the country in which there is a car park at a tourist attraction. If I park there for half an hour, I pay €4.80. Tourists are not as conscious of the price of large items — they pay hundreds of euro in getting here or on accommodation — but they are aware of a small element such as that car parking charge, which does not seem right. That is what sticks with a visitor. In the same way, discourtesy will strike a chord. We travel abroad and know that is what we remember. We notice if a waiter pulls away a plate too quickly or does not answer a question. There are large and small issues. At one time it was suggested visitors to Ireland should be allowed to travel free on public transport, which was tried. However, a charge of €4.80 for parking runs counter to the spirit of making the visitor feel welcome in small ways. We probably need to keep our eye very carefully on this aspect.

All Senators will speak about their own regions. I will mention Shannon Airport. When we lost the American flights to Shannon Airport, we undermined tourism in that entire region. I come from Cashel which has the Rock of Cashel. We can remember when the flow of visitors from Shannon Airport extended to the entire region. We cannot go back to that time, but I will make a suggestion to the Minister of State. Could Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland not engage in advance with tour operators? The tour operators make the decisions for a major part of the business, usually 12 months or more in advance. They often send their representatives to Dublin only. Every time I ask a taxi driver how is the tourism doing, he or she tells me it is wonderful. That tells me it must be good on the ground. However, that is the case in Dublin all year round because there are so many activities outside the four peak months.

We must be fair to the rest of Ireland. In the case of my region, we took away the advantage of flights to Shannon Airport. I accept that Fáilte Ireland cannot make tour operators visit a particular part of the country. It is for ourselves to do this. We must make tour operators aware that if they come to our area, they will find top-class hotel accommodation, attractions and good food, all of which are available, but tourists must be encouraged to come. In that context, we would become much more competitive.

I am a little worried that some hotels are becoming too competitive. In the recession they are reducing prices simply to have cash-flow. In such cases, banks are very often in the background and there is a danger that standards will be lowered. I recently visited a hotel which was obviously in examinership or receivership. No light was evident in the window. When I walked in, I found that the lights in the lobby had been switched off. My wife and I were the only two diners in the restaurant. The person serving was also doing the cooking. This had been a good hotel in its day. If we are not careful, I can see standards dropping in the current price auction. Many hoteliers have said they do not have a problem with the banks, are not in NAMA and are doing good business, but they cannot do it at the rates the bank hotels are charging. That might seem a strange point to make in this debate, but I am looking at the long term.

The Senator's time is nearly up, if he is sharing.

Bed and breakfast establishments were excellent as part of the tourism product because they provided a different experience. Now, they are finding the market difficult because hotel prices have come down. Could we not look after the bureaucracy by which bed and breakfast establishment owners must pay all of the increased charges to keep their establishments open? Some 40% of bed and breakfast establishments must have closed in the last two years. If they close, they will not reopen and we will need them in the future.

I wish the Minister of State well. I agree with Senator Feargal Quinn that the Minister of State is the bubbly and energetic person we need. We have excellent infrastructure and officials. It is clear that the Government is focused on sustaining what we have, in which regard I wish the Minister of State the best of luck.

I am afraid the Senator's time is up. He had eight minutes.

Did I not say I wished to share my time with Senator Marc MacSharry?

You did not tell me when it was time to share.

With the agreement of the House, I will share my time with Senator Paul Bradford.

I join other speakers in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, who is a man of action. There is no better man to get the tourism business moving.

It is significant to see the Government is preparing for further investment in the tourism product. We all welcome the significant increase in the numbers visiting the country this year, but we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. As Senator Feargal Quinn said, it is all about attracting repeat business. We all want to make sure those who visit Ireland have a good experience and come back. I hope the Government will consider extending the VAT reduction beyond 2013, as it is having a significant impact. In the majority of cases, hotels and restaurants are passing on the reduction to the customer. The reduction in employer's PRSI has also resulted in a significant increase in visitor numbers.

Everyone mentions his or her own region. I agree with what Senator Labhras Ó Murchú said about tourism numbers in Dublin. We need to see that business spread to the regions. In my own county of Galway, one of the most beautiful in the country, Galway city and Connemara do very well. However, while parts of east Galway which I represent have wonderful attractions, we do not seem to be on Fáilte Ireland's radar to the same extent as other parts of the county or country. In Ballinasloe we have a fine marina in which the State invested significantly some years ago. Ballinasloe is on the River Suck which runs into the River Shannon. One can travel up the River Shannon through Shannonbridge to Ballinasloe. However, we have a little problem and I hope the Minister of State will be able to help us. There is a Bord na Móna bridge between Shannonbridge and Ballinasloe which, when water levels are high, prevents cruisers of a certain size coming up the river to Ballinasloe. We need the Minister of State's help to get a number of organisations, including Fáilte Ireland, Bord na Móna and Waterways Ireland, together. We also need some money. A solution to the problem, without having to dismantle the bridge, has been found, but it will cost a significant amount of money. We need the Minister of State's help to resolve that issue in order that we can increase the number of tourists coming to east Galway, particularly Ballinasloe in which we also have fine conference centres. If other parts of the country are not suitable for the holding of conferences, we have a fine new hotel in Ballinasloe that would be capable of handling large conferences.

I salute the efforts of Tidy Towns organisations throughout the country, which help to make our countryside more beautiful. However, these voluntary organisations and local authorities are stretched and could do with assistance. I appeal to the Minister of State to talk to his Cabinet colleagues about increasing the numbers on the various schemes so that in the peak summer months people will be available to help with village enhancement, signage improvements, tidying and improving infrastructure for tourists. There are innovative ways to do this without imposing additional costs on the State because many of these people would love to contribute if they got the opportunity.

The 100th anniversary of significant historic events will take place in Ireland over the next decade. I am sure the Minister of State is making plans to maximise tourist numbers in association with those events. Hopefully, when we get tourists into Dublin to celebrate, we will activate plans to scatter those visitors to the regions and capitalise on the huge opportunities to increase the number of visitors and tourists. I support what Senator Sheahan said with regard to television advertising versus people on the ground and the ambassadorial role that some hotels play in England. That is worthy of consideration.

I wish the Minister of State continued success and advise him to keep in touch with the Seanad as Members would like to have a regular opportunity to have some input in the plans he will put together. When we put the collective wisdom of the House together, we can come up with some good and innovative ideas.

I thank Senator Mullins for sharing his time with me. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He attempted to join this House many years ago, but fortunately for his sake and that of officials, he was unsuccessful on that occasion. The Seanad would never have been the same.

I could complain I did not even get nominated.

If the country needs anything at this time, it needs jobs, hope and a feel-good factor. Tourism can help provide all of these. The Minister of State has responsibility for tourism and sport in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and tourism is the area which can produce jobs almost instantaneously with a little help and innovative thinking. Notwithstanding the weather we have in Ireland, the majority of tourists come not for a suntan but for our sites, our culture, our history, our rivers and our lakes and we can encourage their numbers to increase in the years ahead.

I congratulate the Minister and Minister of State on their efforts to date, but we cannot rest on our laurels. It is pleasing to learn that tourist numbers have increased, but we must be realistic. There are problems that need to be addressed urgently. We should not fool ourselves about Ireland being good value for tourism. It may be slightly better value than it was, but much of the product is still overpriced. Consumers, whether Irish or European, are now restricted to a limited budget and value for money is at the top of their agenda. It is disappointing to see some hotels and restaurants continuing to charge way over the top. Reference was made earlier to hotels which dramatically increase prices when concerts are on or for race weeks, etc. The Minister of State should outlaw this practice.

The Minister of State has often spoken about the Olympics and the possibility of spin-off tourism for Ireland. I watched "Oireachtas Report" last night which covered some of the debate in the other House on this subject. It appears the statistics and figures with regard to this spin-off are disappointing. I urge the Minister of State to keep up the efforts on the basis that there will be millions of people wandering around London during the Olympics. We had hopes of some teams doing their training in Ireland, but if that is not successful, many of the visitors to the Olympics should be encouraged to come to Ireland through additional marketing.

It is easy for me to spend the Government's money for it, but sometimes it is a question of spending money that otherwise would not have been spent. People come to Ireland in their thousands on the ferries every year and bring great business here. Would it be possible for these people to get some excise relief on fuel they buy for their vehicles while here? If they did not come and spend their money here, this fuel would not have been purchased. Would it be possible to provide an excise rebate scheme for people who bring their cars over on the ferries, a voucher or some other system that would not be abused? This might be a way of encouraging people to bring their cars to Ireland. I know that when the Cork-Swansea ferries stops its services at the end of the season, this causes major difficulties. We need to consider what can be done in that regard.

I welcome the Minister of State. His energy and enthusiasm are always admirable. In fact, people need to look out in Leinster House when he is approaching as he moves at such speed.

My concern with regard to this Bill is whether there is anything else in it that is new. Tourism is a business where revenues are down 31% from their peak, the number of tourists is down 24% and the number of jobs lost is 40,000. The figure of 180,000 employed in the industry mentioned by the Minister of State once stood at 220,000. The statements from the agencies show far too much complacency. Irish tourism is in an emergency situation. My concern with regard to the Bill is that it seeks an extra €85 million. Beginning with the words "An Act to amend", in 85 words it looks for an extra €85 million. In a situation where we must borrow money from the IMF and others, we must ask if this is good value for money and why the tourism sector is failing so badly.

Looking at the numbers provided by Oireachtas researchers, we see that when revenue was collapsing by 31% and numbers by 24%, the two agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, spent nearly €500 million on themselves, 63% of which was on general operating expenses. As a former director of Bord Fáilte, this strikes me as significant. That organisation was tremendously obsessed with increasing its budget and engaging in PR on its own behalf and seemed to be divorced from the industry it was supposed to be serving. I would be worried about any agency that was spending such a significant amount on operating expenses and suggest the Minister of State should consider getting a good slice of that money and investing it in projects to back up his proposals.

I have also always had concerns with regard to marketing spend as approximately one third of the budget goes on that. A question was asked as to why, if when somebody stays in a hotel and the hotel gets the money, there is an onus on the Government to spend a budget of more than €150 million over three years marketing those people's products. Does this produce a dependency culture in Irish tourism so that instead of putting money into the Exchequer where it is so badly needed, these organisations are always looking for grants? As the Minister of State knows well, some of the marketing trips abroad attract adverse criticism.

The Department needs to radicalise Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland as they have been too complacent in the face of what is, by any standards, a drastic decline in employment in the sector. They have a large budget which does not seem to be giving us any results and it is for that reason I have submitted an amendment to the Bill. Given the record of these two bodies in spending a large amount of money, almost €500 million in a three-year period, I am concerned that we could be throwing good money after bad since this spend has resulted in 31% less revenue in the sector. These bodies must prove to the Department, to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and to the IMF that this is a useful way to spend the money and that the industry can revive. Mistakes have been made and people have mentioned the NAMA hotels and that the National Convention Centre will involve an annual loss. It is all right to mention it as a vital part of infrastructure, but it imposes a burden on the Exchequer. It will be interesting to see what the loss will be.

Everybody is concerned by whether tourists see Ireland as good value for money. In 2000, some 23% did, but by 2009 this number was down to 3%. The number of tourists who thought it was poor, fair or very poor value for money rose from 39% to 71%. There is a lot that needs to happen in this regard and I admire the Minister of State's energy to make it happen. There are a lot of complacent people in offices close to the Minister of State's which need a very big shake up. That applies to this sector also. It is okay to say the tourism industry has great potential, but it has performed abysmally since the middle part of the last decade. Cranking it up again might require radical action and all the energy the Minister of State embodies. Is that urgency matched in the industry, the Department and the promotional bodies? They strike me as being in denial about the extent of the decline and do not exhibit the same energy as the Minister of State in seeking to reverse the decline.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an díospóireacht seo, díospóireacht atá thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tá cúrsaí turasóireachta iontach tábhachtach sa tír seo le go dtiocfaimid chuig a chéile.

While the skills and expertise of the Minister of State have been mentioned, the fact that he is also a singing Minister of State has not. I agree with Senator Michael Mullins because the Minister of State seems to have expertise in dealing with bridges over troubled waters. He might try to look, therefore, at the bridge in Ballinasloe as a matter of urgency.

In the current economic climate the importance of tourism cannot be overstated. As an indigenous economic sector, it is unique in that it has an impact on all areas of the economy, both rural and urban. It is a very significant employer and requires minimal import content to produce its output. The rationale for increased investment in the sector is particularly strong and to be supported. Táimid ag tacú leis an mBille seo ar an mbunús sin.

The recent performance of the industry is encouraging. However, for it to keep making a positive contribution to the economy, strategies will be necessary to make the right strategic choices in the coming period, a matter to which Senator Feargal Quinn alluded. It is essential that a measured approach is taken when deciding on priorities.

Since the 1990s when there was rapid growth, a number of indicators — the number of tourist visits and revenue generated — suggest the tourism sector has experienced a period of decline in recent years. During the period 2005-10 the number of overseas visitors and holidaymakers to Ireland peaked in 2007 at 7.7 million and then declined year on year to 5.8 million in 2010. The number of visitors from each of our three largest markets, Britain, mainland Europe and North America, has declined year on year since 2007, although the number of domestic trips actually increased in the same period.

Tourism's contribution to the broader economy in terms of GNP has remained relatively stable at between 3.7% and 4%. The industry's role in promoting balanced regional and rural development is extremely important. As mentioned, the River Shannon, the east, the midlands, the west and the north west, in particular, need to be included in an inclusive strategy to maximise their potential.

Dialogue is necessary between the Minister of State and his Government colleagues because the provision of infrastructure is key. If we do not provide infrastructure to make destinations accessible, particularly in the west, it goes without saying fewer people will travel to them. From talking to people, the recent cutbacks in the capital expenditure programme were a sore disappointment to many involved in the tourism trade in the west. The western rail corridor and the A5 road project which are essential to make the west, the north west in particular, more accessible have been long-fingered indefinitely.

In addition, Galway Airport which serves tourist destinations in the west remains under threat of closure. Some 85 of its flights are international and the region would lose €19 million in tourist revenue if it were to close. I hope the Minister of State will put pressure on his colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to reinstate the OPEX grants which were available to the airport to keep it viable. The airport employs 180 people who contribute €2 million to the local economy, not to mention the value of the airport to the area generally.

Equally, in respect of the A5 road project, the Government has attempted to back out of its commitments under the St. Andrew's Agreement to provide funding for this crucial project. It is worth noting that Deputy Pearse Doherty's report, Awakening the West, states the number of overseas visitors to the area has declined by 30% since 1999. In making the north west more attractive — it is one of our gems — we must make it more competitive in terms of infrastructure.

The tourism industry continues to be a major employer, with the CSO and Fáilte Ireland estimating that those working in the tourism and hospitality sector make up somewhere between 7% and 10% of total employment. The level has decreased in the past couple of years.

The Bill is a technical one to facilitate Fáilte Ireland in continuing its business. However, it should form the basis for a response to the tourism product development strategy produced by Fáilte Ireland which outlines that competitor destinations in northern Europe are investing substantial sums of public money in tourism. In Norway, for example, the level of public investment in tourism has been running at €43 million annually. In Scotland the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Agency spends up to £22 million annually on tourism. This investment is in addition to the £52 million provided by way of government grant support by the Visit Scotland agency.

Visit Scotland is seeking to encourage the Scottish hospitality business to enhance its marketing campaigns. This initiative aims to address the issue of capacity utilisation in the industry and is centred on increasing the occupancy rate rather than building more hotels. Similar initiatives here would need to address the overcapacity issue, in particular outside Dublin. This opportunity should be taken to involve in a meaningful way the sector and individual communities in the development of our tourism product. Visit Scotland is seeking to encourage the hospitality industry to become involved in cross-selling to involve local businesses in promoting and developing a comprehensive tourism package. Private businesses can promote themselves on the website, appear in literature such as pamphlets and receive access to information on training and skills to enhance the tourism experience. This model should be further developed here to include the local community, including the community and voluntary sectors, as well as local businesses in a collective effort to develop and improve their tourism product.

The Department and its agencies must look at how big ticket items can provide the nucleus of an improved product. There is huge potential in every corner of the country for product development. Competitor countries are placing substantial public investment in tourism product innovation. Examples include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Eden project near Bristol. These investments by municipalities and other public authorities provide iconic attractions which, in turn, offer compelling reasons to motivate visitors to choose a particular destination. In a similar vein, individual major events which have a significant tourism impact have also received public investment in competitor countries. The Edinburgh International Festival, for example, receives £5 million of public funds annually and plays an important role in attracting visitors. For Ireland, cultural tourism continues to hold huge potential. In this regard, we must continue to support the likes of Féile Ealáion na Gaillimhe, etc.

Ar cheist na Gaeilge, rud eile gur chóir don Rialtas a thabhairt san áireamh ná luach na Gaeilge don turasóireacht. Is léir domsa nach bhfuilimid ag baint leasa as an Ghaeilge mar acmhainn eacnamúil agus turasóireachta go dtí an leibhéal ba chóir go ndéanfadh muid. Is fiú go leor cheana féin í. Is fiú €136 milliún sa bhliain an Ghaeilge do gheilleagar Contae na Gaillimhe agus b'fhiú €14 milliún iad na coláistí samhraidh don gheilleagar áitiúil i 2007, ach tá i bhfad níos mó gur féidir a dhéanamh ina leith seo.

Molann Gaillimh le Gaeilge go mbeadh cúrsa traenála Gaeilge ann a d'fhéadfai a chur ar fáil le Fáilte Ireland agus a d'fhéadfaí a chur ar fáil do ghóthaí turasóireachta agus failteachas sa Ghaeltacht. Dá leithscéal, aontaionn muintir na Gaillimhe liom go bhfuil an Ghaeilge luachmhar don ghnó agus don turasóireacht. Is dóigh le 91% de mhuintir na Gaillimhe go bhfuil an Ghaeilge "tábhachtach" nó "fíor-thábhachtach". Is é luach na Gaeltachta ná an fonn atá ar dhaoine dul ann agus cuairt a thabhairt uirthi. Tá an luach ann go cultúrtha freisin agus caithfimid tacú leis sin.

Debate adjourned.