I welcome the members of the committee and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, and his officials.
National Tourism Development Authority Bill [Seanad] 2002: Committee Stage.
In regard to establishment, on Second Stage I raised the issue of industrial relations within both CERT and Bord Fáilte. The Minister in his reply stated:
There has been an intensive consultation and preparation process for more than a year to prepare the way for the merger. Staff have been continuously updated on developments and this process will continue. I met the unions, the interim board and CO designate, in particular, in the process of addressing various industrial relations issues and I am confident a satisfactory outcome will be achieved.
My information is different. This concerns SIPTU in CERT and Bord Fáilte and the NUJ. No intensive consultation has taken place. The Minister met them but as far as I understand it was for a friendly conversation. The context here concerns establishment. It would be foolish to establish this new board with so many questions left unanswered in regard to people's work conditions. There has been no intensive consultation and we have not even started negotiations. Is this not a case of putting the cart before the horse? There are 90 employees in CERT and 130 in Bord Fáilte. Issues such as pensions have not been resolved. The Bord Fáilte pension is a public pension but the CERT pension is private. What will happen to what has accrued from that? Workers from both groups are paid different rates. Could we have a scenario such as the one that existed with Enterprise Ireland a few years ago when people sitting at the same desks received different rates of pay? Several other issues have not been resolved.
I understand the unions are willing to talk about this and have no objection to this Bill. The Tourism Ireland negotiations in 2001 took about 100 hours. The same amount of negotiation has not taken place here. A facilitator was called in to the Tourism Ireland negotiations and he helped to smooth their path. I suggest to the Minister that the same process be employed in this case. It would be foolish of him to establish this new board without the IR issues having been resolved.
There have been discussions between my Department and representatives of the workers. As Deputy Deenihan pointed out, I had a meeting with them. There has been a request for a further meeting and there is no difficulty in facilitating that. We wish to facilitate the workers' representatives to the best of our ability. It is important that the overall structures be put in place and the minutiae dealt with and it is clearly desirable to have all of the industrial relations issues cleared up prior to the establishment day. The issue of pensions has been dealt with in the legislation. There has been some difficulty in arranging talks because of the engagement of at least one party in the partnership discussions. However, we will endeavour to open up further talks and try and resolve the issues which the Deputy has mentioned.
Does the Minister think it would be a good idea to appoint a facilitator as soon as possible as was done with Tourism Ireland?
I have no difficulty with that if it becomes necessary, but I hope the talks resolve the issues.
Amendment No. 15 is consequential on amendment No. 1 and both may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, subsection (1), line 43, after "as" to insert "an tÚdarás Náisiúnta Forbartha Turasóireachta or in the English language".
This is a straightforward amendment. It seeks that the National Tourism Development Authority be known as An tÚdarás Náisiúnta Forbartha Turasóireachta in Irish. This is in line with the thinking of the Official Languages Equality Bill and I hope the Minister is favourable to it.
What process took place to identify Fáilte Ireland as a suitable name for the new body? The objective of Fáilte Ireland will be to promote indigenous tourism but I can see it being interpreted as faulty Ireland or something like that. Were other names considered for the authority because I would be wary that Fáilte Ireland could be called faulty Ireland by our detractors?
Once they do not call us Craggy Ireland, I would be satisfied. In fairness, nobody ever said that Bord Fáilte was Bord faulty. I do not expect——
One of the Minister's predecessors, I think, may have said it.
I do not expect that anybody should now call the new tourism development authority "faulty Ireland". There were a number of options put forward such as Welcome Ireland, Tourism Development, Tourism Development Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. The implementation group put these names forward. I decided that Fáilte Ireland was the correct name by which the national tourism development authority should be known. The reason for that is because Bord Fáilte has been a marketable brand for many decades and has been associated with Ireland. Fáilte is a word which is associated with Ireland of the welcomes. Having considered it very carefully, it was decided to call the new authority Fáilte Ireland. If anybody has a better proposal we are willing to listen to it but the implementation group did not come up with more than four suggestions and I thought this was the best choice.
Amendments Nos. 4, 6, and 14, are related to amendment No. 2 and they may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 8, subsection (2)(a), line 9, after "offices" to insert "and where such an office has responsibility for a Gaeltacht area members of the staff shall have the ability to conduct their business in the Irish language".
The committee had a discussion about the Irish language and there was strong support from all sides of the House regarding its use and encouragement. This amendment intends that staff employed in tourism offices in Gaeltacht areas should have the ability to conduct business in the Irish language. I am sure that everyone at the meeting yesterday would agree with this reasonable request. It would send out the right signal as regards the promotion of the Irish language and I ask the Minister to accept the amendment. It will not change the direction of the Bill but it would be welcomed by Irish language groups across the country. I am sure the Minister will agree that persons visiting a Gaeltacht area should be able to conduct business, ask for directions and be responded to through Irish.
Does Deputy Deenihan wish me to also address amendments Nos. 4, 6 and 14?
It is really the same issue in all those amendments.
I will respond to all those amendments now. I sympathise with the spirit of the amendments but I do not believe they are necessary. On amendment No. 2, it is not clear whether the authority will have tourist information offices in Gaeltacht areas. Bord Fáilte Éireann does not operate tourist information offices in those areas at present. Any tourist information offices in these areas are run by the regional tourism authorities. I am informed by Bord Fáilte that all the regional tourism authorities with tourism information offices in Gaeltacht areas, for example, in Aran, Galway, Dingle, Dungarvan and Dungloe, have competency to deal with inquiries as gaeilge. A similar competency prevails in Bord Fáilte.
On the general issue, CERT plans to carry out an audit to determine the actual levels of Irish language capability. In the meantime specific named individuals in CERT have indicated their willingness and capacity to discharge its business through Irish. CERT's customer charter, currently in the process of publication, contains a commitment to the provision of administrative services through Irish and states:
We are committed to improving the level of administrative services we provide through Irish by providing at CERT House reception a list of staff who will deal with customers through Irish, answering correspondence in Irish if this is the language in which you have written, providing training to staff to increase both the level of proficiency and the number of staff capable of providing a service through Irish.
There is an Official Languages Equality Bill before the Oireachtas which addresses issues of language rights for Irish speakers and the right to receive service as gaeilge. That is the proper place for legislation on these matters. The legislation places a requirement on the authority to have regard to the policies of the Government for the time being extant. I think that covers the issue generally. It includes policy on the Irish language and culture. Making this stipulation any more specific as proposed in amendment No. 4 would be both unnecessary and undesirable as it would highlight one particular policy area in this way while excluding others.
I would expect that some of the fundamental corporate governance documents governing the authority, such as strategy statement and customer charter, would also have regard to and express a commitment to the Government's policy on the Irish language. The Courts Service Act in its provisions governing the content of the service's strategic plan referred to the need to have regard to the Government's policy on bilingualism. This is less elaborate legislation and we do not have such provisions here.
This Bill provides me with the power to give positive direction to the authority. If any real problems emerge in this area I give the committee my undertaking that I will if necessary use my powers of direction under the Bill to require the authority to address them.
With regard to amendment No. 6 it seems to me there is probably not a great likelihood of the authority establishing subsidiaries or committees based on such small geographical units such as an individual Gaeltacht area. On this specific proposal regarding the committees conducting their business exclusively in Irish, there could be a danger in prescribing this in legislation. For instance, would inquirers or investors who communicate in Irish be dealt with?
This is not just a matter of theoretical interest to me because I have a significant Gaeltacht area in my constituency which also happens to be a major tourism area. That is another reason I would have no hesitation in using my powers of direction to address significant deficiencies in this area.
The Minister will not be the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism ad infinitum but this Bill will be in place for a long time. Concerns were expressed at the meeting yesterday about the decline of Irish in Gaeltacht areas and the general official attitude towards the encouragement of Irish. These amendments were designed to recognise the importance of the Irish language in Gaeltacht areas. They came from Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, they are not my amendments. These people were not making these suggestions just to be mischievous and had given them careful consideration. I ask the Minister and his officials to examine these amendments and perhaps they can be revisited on Report Stage. I will convey the Minister's observations on the amendments to Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge. It would not upset the Bill if they were to be included.
I move amendment No. 3
In page 8, subsection (3)(b), line 26, after "tourism" to insert "and the Catering Industry".
This Bill is all about the tourism and catering industry. CERT was established to train people for the catering industry, which is an intrinsic part of the tourism industry. People obviously have to eat when they are here, but some people are coming here because of our reputation for our cuisine, which has improved. Many restaurants across the country with a high reputation for cuisine are prospering. However, there is no mention of catering in the Bill. Deputy Collins, who has been involved in catering all his life and dealt with thousands of tourists over the years, would accept that catering is very much part of the tourism industry in this country. The hospitality provided to tourists by waiters, waitresses, chefs, etc., who work at the coalface, is very important. I was very surprised there was no mention of catering in the Bill. This amendment seeks to mention catering. It will not change the pattern of the Bill in any way.
Obviously a great deal of catering is provided within the tourism industry and this remains a primary focus for CERT. That element of catering which may be determined to be outside tourism would be industrial contract catering and institutional catering in prisons, hospitals, etc. To date CERT has been involved to a limited extent in providing services to both the industrial and institutional catering sectors. However, this is not considered a core function and it has remained engaged only because of the revenue generated. For example in 2002, revenue from these sectors is expected to total €250,000 which is still just 1% of total income. Associated operating costs would be of the order of €180,000. This is the primary, but not the exclusive, function of just one member of staff and a proportion of the work of some other staff members. This activity is very much peripheral to the core functions and that is why I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I am surprised at the Minister's reaction to the proposal and also to his reference to the catering industry. As far as I am concerned the catering industry is a critical part of the whole tourism industry. It is as important as our scenery and our national monuments. It is just one critical pillar of our industry. As CERT is now to be merged with Bord Fáilte, the whole emphasis on training people to be competent in dealing with different aspects of the hospitality industry will now in some way be eroded.
The Bill is very much a tourism promotion Bill. Although CERT is to be merged with Bord Fáilte, it is not an equal merger. It appears as if CERT will join Bord Fáilte rather than the two coming together to form a new body. The language of this Bill is geared towards the function of Bord Fáilte and the emphasis on CERT and training people to work in hospitality, bars, travel agencies, reception and as chefs seems to have been taken away. The chief executive of the new authority will be the former executive of CERT, and although he is a young and able man, he will not be there forever. The great advances we have made in training staff may be lost if we do not include provisions in the Bill to ensure that the catering industry will be protected. There should be an onus on the new board to take cognisance of the catering industry. I tabled the amendment in that spirit and I would like to hear the Minister's response.
The insertion of catering here will do nothing for the Bill. If we market tourism properly abroad using brochures, etc. and advertise places like Bunratty Castle where people can get a good meal, there would be no need to incorporate this into the Bill.
We are not talking about marketing abroad here; this is only to do with marketing locally.
Anyone living in this country knows where to go for a good meal. We must attract tourism from outside. I cannot see the Deputy's point.
This is not a Bill about attracting tourism from outside the country. That is the responsibility of Tourism Ireland. This Bill is about indigenous tourism.
People are now going to various hotels around the country, like Ballymaloe, etc., because of their gourmet reputation. All I want is one word added to the Bill and I would prefer to hear the Minister rather than the minister in waiting respond.
If Deputy Breen did not interrupt, we would not have a problem.
Surely I am entitled to give my views. No one will muzzle me.
The Deputy will not be muzzled in this committee.
Tourism is tourism and it is self-explanatory. If we add reference to the catering industry, we would have to add reference to fishing, shooting, walking, running, racing, golfing, football, tennis, etc.; otherwise they would all be excluded. Tourism is tourism.
My main point refers to the merging of CERT and Bord Fáilte. CERT was very much involved in the catering industry. If we are merging two bodies, why not bring elements of both bodies together?
CERT was only involved to a very limited extent in providing services to both the industrial and institutional catering services. To reiterate the points made by Deputy Breen and Deputy Kelly, this is a tourist traffic Bill, to introduce a National Tourism Development Authority. It has the purpose of developing tourism, which is a broad enough church, because it incorporates accommodation, attractions, niche products, restaurants, pubs, etc. I agree with the statement that if we start into the catering industry, we might have to include shop assistants next.
They are very important, as they are the people who meet tourists.
We might have to travel down every road and provide training. We cannot do that in a National Tourism Development Authority Bill, because it deals with the tourism industry. While Bord Fáilte is involved in the indigenous tourism industry, it is also involved in attracting tourists from other countries through its sports initiative, for example. If we were to travel down the road suggested by Deputy Deenihan there would be so many byways that we would never find our way back.
Is the amendment being pressed?
I will revert back to the people concerned for their views on what the Minister has said. People in the relevant organisations who were concerned about the balance had asked me to put down the amendment.
The catering industry will be covered, to some extent, by the provision in the general functions of the authority to "encourage, promote and support the recruitment, training, education and development of persons for the purposes of employment in connection with the tourism industry in the State." Section 8(i)(b) is generally compatible with the objectives of my amendment. However, it contains no mention of the important matter of curriculum development. Any career guidance teacher in any school will confirm that CERT was the most professional among organisations contacting schools in relation to career paths and opportunities. It had built up a very good rapport with schools throughout the country. I am concerned that there is no mention of curriculum development in the Bill. In my view, the philosophy behind this Bill indicates that, in some way, the very good work of CERT will be diminished and the focus will be taken off that area.
I understand that it was Bord Fáilte which established CERT back in the 1960s, specifically to provide people for the entire hospitality and catering industry. It has done a remarkable job in that regard. During a recent visit to America, I learned that the UK Government is now sending young chefs and cooks to America to keep abreast of advances in quality of cuisine and so on. Similarly, chefs from America have gone to France. I am concerned that we are losing competitiveness in this country because of prices. I hope we will not lose our attraction due to any erosion in the level of commitment being put into training the people at the coalface, such as hotel waiters, waitresses and receptionists. It is those people that create an impression on visitors, not the Minister or other politicians.
I ask the Minister to clarify the position with regard to certification of courses. CERT certified a number of accredited courses which were not covered by METAC or FETAC. Will the new body carry out that accreditation function? Who will accredit the courses which Bord Fáilte provided? What is the mechanism in this Bill for accreditation of courses? I do not believe that is included in the Bill and, if that is the case, I suggest to the Minister that it should be included and I invite his response.
Section 8(i)(b) makes it very clear that education and development of persons for the purpose of employment in connection with the tourism industry is one of the general functions of the authority. That is very specifically stated in the Bill, which goes to the core of tourism development. With regard to the accreditation role in general, these functions, to the best of my knowledge, are carried out already by bodies outside of the remit of CERT and Bord Fáilte and that situation will continue.
That is not true. CERT is still accrediting courses. I ask the Minister to have that checked by his Department officials. Who will now accredit the courses which have hitherto been accredited by CERT?
My understanding of the situation is that two organisations known as METAC and FETAC have the accreditation role, which they carry out on behalf of CERT. I envisage that they will carry out the same function for the National Tourism Development Authority.
There are short-term courses which are not accredited by the two bodies mentioned by the Minister but are accredited by CERT. A number of people participating in those courses are known to me. Will those short-term courses be accredited by the new agency? There is no mention of that in the Bill. I ask the Minister to clarify the position.
I have explained the position as I understand it with regard to the accreditation role. If there are some courses accredited by CERT, of which I am not aware, since the functions of CERT and Bord Fáilte will be transferred to the new authority, it is a logical consequence that that authority will have the functions which were formerly carried out by CERT. The objective is to merge the two organisations, not to strip the new organisation of any powers which the merged organisations previously held.
At least the Minister has come some distance in that regard. However, it would have been helpful to make specific reference to the matter in the Bill or, at least, in the explanatory memorandum. I will furnish details to the Minister with regard to the short-term courses which CERT is currently accrediting and which are not referred to in the Bill.
Moving on to another point, I note that the new authority will have power to establish information offices. As I understand it, the RTOs are not covered by this Bill. It was the RTOs that set up tourist information offices. Could the Minister clarify the position in that regard? On Second Stage, the Minister indicated he would deal with RTOs in subsequent legislation. That would appear to involve some duplication in that the new authority can establish and operate tourist information offices whereas the RTOs are already doing that. Will the Minister clarify why that function is being added to the new body?
It is important to clarify the relationship between the regional tourism authorities and Bord Fáilte. The authorities have been established and supported by Bord Fáilte. They have no statutory base, the legislation does not deal with them and there is no reason why it should.
I recently established a review group to examine the tourism industry and the structures within the industry are included in its remit. I hope it will produce an interim report before the end of April and a full report a couple of months later. At that point we will consider the relationship between the new national authority and the regional authorities, especially as we are now entering a new phase in the development of the industry. The regional authorities are to be admired and congratulated on their good work.
The regional tourism authorities have been very successful, for example, Cork-Kerry Tourism is 80% funded by the industry. If that was not the case offices would close. The Minister has raised an important point regarding the future of the authorities. Will they be subsumed under the terms of legislation?
The regional tourism authorities form part of regional policy. Perhaps some members of the committee are also members of authorities. The legislation provides that the new national authority will establish and operate tourism information offices. This will conflict with the authorities, who are engaged in this activity. Is the Minister suggesting that they may be abolished? The review body may recommend it, but they will not have made a decision on that aspect by next June. This is a major issue. Cork-Kerry Tourism is a very effective regional tourism authority.It works closely with the hotel and tourism industry.
The industry and not the Government funds the regional tourism authorities and any examination of their future role should have been done in the context of this legislation. The Minister must proceed carefully because the industry is prepared to provide funding to the authorities. A different situation will arise if Government agencies seek to provide co-funding. If the new national authority is to establish tourism information centres it will have to pay for them. In a period of spending cutbacks they could be the first to be affected.
The Deputy's point is well made. The review is under way.
I do not wish to create a wrong impression here. I specified that the relationship between the regional tourism authorities and the new National Tourism Development Authority would be addressed by the review group established to examine the tourism industry. This cannot be held to mean that there is any threat to the regional authorities, far from it. I am a great believer in regionalisation and decentralisation.
The power to run tourism information offices lies under the remit of Bord Fáilte since the implementation of the provisions of the Tourist Traffic Act 1952. However, over the years regional tourism authorities have, for the most part, been running tourism information offices. Despite what Deputy Deenihan might think, the majority, or 80%, of their funding does not come from the tourism sector. Much of their income derives from their commercial activities. There are many fine offices throughout the State and they are to a large extent a credit to the authorities. It is important the position is understood, otherwise a misleading impression, however unintentional, might be given to the industry, especially those involved in the authorities. I would not like that to happen.
The regional tourism authorities generate their funding and are positively supported by the industry. They are not a burden on the Government. If a State agency is to be involved in this area it may be more difficult to tap the generosity of the industry.
To clarify the funding aspect, 26% of the income of the regional tourism authorities is derived from Bord Fáilte, 50% from commercial activities, 10% from local authorities and just 10% from the industry.
That is not the case with regard to Cork-Kerry Tourism.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Minister may establish a permanent inter-departmental review group comprising representatives of the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Department of Finance, the Department of Agriculture and Food, and the Department of Education and Science, as well as such other public bodies, as the Minister may from time to time determine whose function shall be to advise the Minister and the National Tourism Development Authority on tourism policy especially in relation to the role of their own Departments.".
The work of many Departments infringe on the tourism industry. For example, the Department of the Environment and Local Government is responsible for the roads, including the important matter of sign posting, and the provision of water and sewerage services. Some of the critical strategic tourism roads are either regional or national secondary roads. Many of them were ignored in the recent funding allocations by the NRA. For example, 260,000 vehicles travel along the N69, commuting to and from the ferry between counties Kerry and Clare. The condition of the road is a cause of major concern, especially to bus operators.
The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources also has a major tourism role. The Department of Finance is concerned with VAT, excise duties and other matters, including investment decisions in the industry. The Department of Agriculture and Food is important because of the role of farmers in opening their lands for walkways and public rights of way. Many archaeological attractions are located on privately owned land and access depends on the generosity of farmers. The Departments of Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform also have important roles. The latter Department extended the opening hours, a move which is doing considerable damage to the tourism industry. Tourists are beginning to notice that people spill out of public houses in Temple Bar and elsewhere at 2 a.m. after drinking themselves sick. I do not know if Bord Fáilte has received many complaints, but negative letters from tourists are often published in newspapers. They do not feel safe on the streets at night. I have said publicly that there is a great difference between somebody leaving a pub at 11 p.m. or 11.30 p.m. and 2 a.m. This problem, which is affecting the image of Irish tourism, is related to my amendment, which proposes an interdepartmental structure involving top civil servants from the Departments I have mentioned. The Minister acknowledged my concerns during his Second Stage speech, but he said he has encountered similar proposals in the past. Most of the proposals involved ad hoc committees that were established by Governments to do a specific job.
There would be better communication between Departments if a permanent interdepartmental review group met on a regular basis. The role of various Departments in the tourism industry would be emphasised. The Departments would take cognisance of the industry when making decisions, for example, when deciding whether to make an allocation for a water and sewerage treatment scheme. The Department of Education and Science is important as schools have a role in promoting the tourism industry. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is also relevant, as it is charged with addressing the problem of litter, which was discussed by Kerry County Council last week. Ireland is getting a reputation for being a dirty country and people are horrified when they see litter strewn all over the streets. More than the new tourism authority is needed, as the tourism industry is a broad one. Members are aware that tourism is important to this country's future as a growth industry. Agriculture, fishing and the IT industry are declining, but tourism will be the growth industry of the future. An interdepartmental group would help the Minister considerably and would be a dynamic force for the promotion of tourism.
I understood that one of the Bill's intentions was to incentivise tourism and to bring many organisations under a single umbrella, thereby creating a single focus in the development of the industry. I agree with some of Deputy Deenihan's comments, as the proposal in this Bill to create so many committees will fragment the tourism industry. I appreciate that the suggested group is planned as a backup, but there is no need for it. Such a wide scale of diversification will cause problems.
I recently asked the Minister about waterways, but I was told that Waterways Ireland is responsible and that he could not comment. I knew immediately how I could acquire information on waterways funding. If this amendment is accepted, too many groups will have a say in tourism policy and the impact of this Bill will be diluted. We need to be focused and see where we are going. The imminent tourism report mentioned by the Minister will provide more focal points. This Bill is designed to promote tourism. Some of the suggestions made by Deputy Deenihan are vital if we are to improve the tourism industry, but I do not support his amendment.
I sympathise with Deputy Deenihan's argument. There are three key words in his amendment - it states that the Minister "may" establish an interdepartmental review group, but does not impose a strict duty or responsibility on him to create such a committee. The amendment also uses the word "permanent" and states that the function of the committee is to "advise" the Minister and the authority. Deputy Deenihan mentioned certain aspects of the tourism industry that relate to various Departments. A more effective way of dealing with such issues would be for the new authority to develop policy and to seek the co-operation of Departments and other public bodies in implementing its ideas. The interdepartmental review group suggested by Deputy Deenihan is so broadly based that it may find it difficult to reach a measure of agreement in terms of tourism. I support the idea of a co-ordinated approach to tourism that brings together policy on issues like security, litter and access to national monuments, but I cannot support the model suggested in this amendment.
I agree with Deputy Deenihan's remarks on the state of the N68, which is the gateway from Northern Ireland to Moneypoint. No money has been allocated to the road, on which many tourists travel.
I mentioned similar problems on the N69, which passes through north Kerry.
I agree with the Deputy in relation to the N69, but I do not agree with his argument that longer pub opening hours have caused the violence on our streets. Bars stay open almost all night in many European countries and the United States, but they do not have similar problems to us. There is something wrong with the drink culture in Ireland. I may be incorrect, but I think it is wrong if pubs have to close at 11 p.m., when there is daylight during the summer. Ireland was almost the only country to close pubs so early. Tourists like to go to a bar until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. after they have had a shower and had something to eat after a day's travelling. The late opening of bars is not the cause of the violence on the streets. I would like the Minister to relate his experience of European countries and the US where bars stay open very late. Are people afraid to visit those countries? I have been to Brussels, where bars stay open all night, and I have seen thousands of tourists walking around at 4 a.m. Why are they not molested or harmed?
I deeply regret that Deputy Deenihan has chosen to portray Ireland as a dirty and drink-ridden country. I reject such remarks, as there are few countries in the world that can boast of a finer environment than Ireland. Not many countries give visitors a better welcome than they receive here and tourists cannot enjoy a visit to many other countries as much as they enjoy a visit to Ireland.
I reject Deputy Deenihan's assertion that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, where I had the privilege of serving as Minister, changed the drink laws. The Department is peopled by civil servants who act on the instructions of the Parliament and the Government. An all-party Oireachtas committee examined the pub licensing laws and produced proposals for changing the law in that respect. All parties agreed to the changes, which were brought before the Oireachtas. Some Members of the Oireachtas asked that the laws be made more liberal than those proposed. I found it intriguing during the general election that certain people who criticised the drink laws, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government had called for more liberal laws when the legislation was before the Oireachtas. I will discuss fairly amendments to intoxicating liquor laws with anybody, but it is not fair to expect me to take seriously criticism from sources that agreed with the amendments in the first instance or sought more liberal laws. The Intoxicating Liquor Commission, which I established under the legislation, is empowered to review the intoxicating liquor laws and to make new proposals if some provisions are not working. It is a matter for the Government and the Oireachtas to decide whether or not changes are desirable.
I do not accept the proposed amendment. As I have said on the floor of the House, I understand and appreciate the constructive spirit which informs it. However, I cannot accept it for a number of reasons. The purpose of the Bill is to establish the authority and does not relate to my powers beyond that. It is not appropriate to make an amendment which relates solely to my exercise of the wider tourism remit considering the tight focus of the legislation. The most important legal point regards the unnecessary nature of the amendment. If I were minded to set up a committee, I could propose it to Government. Legislation is not necessary. Such committees have been established in the past and the current leader of Deputy Deenihan's party was the head of the tourism council which was set up without legislation. The real issue is practicality and we have to ask if such a committee would bring added value. Past experience suggests that these things begin with a bang and tend to fade. In the heel of the hunt, they may not have much clout.
There is no doubt that there are key issues and key players outside my remit which affect tourism. We are all agreed that we must bring a departmental influence to bear. In recent years, my Department has sought to focus on one or two issues of critical importance and has turned away from the committee model to a direct bilateral engagement with individual Departments to influence wider policy debate at Government level. We have used this approach to good effect to tackle the issue of access. Once we have completed our institutional reform package we will focus on engaging more closely with one or two Departments with regard to other critical tourism issues. During the preparation of the national development plan, my Department pushed strongly for recognition of the vital importance of infrastructure to tourism and development. The recent announcement of the sign-posting initiative is a positive result of that pressure. Other infrastructural and environmental matters remain and we need to strengthen our engagement with relevant Departments and bodies.
It will be a crucial aspect of the authority's remit to support our efforts and to make strong inputs with regard to policy making in areas of critical importance to tourism. My Department needs expert advice and information from a strong national and regional tourism development structure to make its interventions effective. The Select Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs could play a valuable and supportive role in this area. Perhaps the committee will wish to reflect on that in the context of its future work programme.
My Department is involved in a vibrant way with other Departments which impinge upon the tourism sector. Access is of immense importance and Deputy Deenihan mentioned roads. As a result of a Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism submission some routes are specifically referred to in the national development plan as having a great deal of importance to tourism. Two such routes in my constituency are the Ring of Kerry and the Tralee-Dingle road while there are others throughout the country. It is not the case that my Department stands alone, rather it vigorously pursues contact with various Departments.
The Minister singled out my remarks, but I referred to a perception that Ireland is a dirty country, not to my opinion. A very strong statement was made on Second Stage in the presence of the Minister's officials about filthy Ireland and the Deputy who made it received banner headlines in the press. It was unfortunate that the Minister did not clarify the matter when he was replying on Second Stage since that was the time to do it. Persons who come to Dublin and do not visit other parts of Ireland will get their perception from the condition of the streets at 2 a.m. or after a match. We have all read letters to the papers in which visitors have complained and we should recognise reality.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform introduced the new drinking laws. I did not accuse the Minister of doing it personally. Public house opening hours will have to be reviewed and they are being examined by the present Minister for a number of reasons.
My amendment seeks to provide for measures which have been proposed by other speakers. It seeks to provide focus. The establishment of an interdepartmental review group may be the wrong direction to go in, but we should discuss the issues in question. The new board and its chief executive will read every word said in the Dáil and at committee and that will be of service to them. There is nothing wrong with providing in the Bill for the establishment by the authority of an interdepartmental group. Unless there is some statutory foundation, these things do not happen.
As a Minister of State, I set up a number of interdepartmental review groups in agriculture, one of which, for example, was on organic farming. That worked very well. When I left the Department, the people who came after me were not as interested in that area and the group was discontinued. If the group had been established on a statutory footing, we would not have the current crisis in organic farming and other areas. The Minister and his officials should have a look at the principle involved, if not at the amendment as proposed. The principle should be included in some way to give the authority the right to set up the body in question. Section 23 which gives the authority the right to establish committees is something we will come to later. Perhaps we can discuss this then.
Amendments No. 7 and 8 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 11, subsection (1)(b), line 42, after "members" to insert ", of which one shall be a Union Representative".
Bord Fáilte and all other established boards feature union representation. I do not know if they were described as worker directors as that designation is more relevant to a semi-State body. At any rate, both amendments have been tabled in the same spirit. It is important a union member is represented on the new board, which should also have a member of the executive of STATCO. I am sure this has been the case in the past. It is vital to have a member of the executive of STATCO on the board.
There are a number of outstanding issues. As it worked well with Tourism Ireland, I again appeal to the Minister to appoint a facilitator to immediately embark on discussions with the relevant unions, which are SIPTU in Bord Fáilte and CERT and the NUJ. It is important the staff maintain their current enthusiasm for the new body and get fully behind it. I have not heard any rumblings, but there are outstanding issues to be resolved before the body is established.
As I stated earlier, we must ensure that no baggage is brought onto the new body. It needs to be established in harmony, staff must be satisfied they have been treated equally and their pension rights and other entitlements preserved. Stipulating that one of the members of the board be a union representative would send out a very positive signal to the workers that they will be represented on the new body as of right.
I support Deputy Deenihan's view on the amendment. When the recent Red Cross Bill came before the House, the Minister's Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, accepted a similar amendment. In the overall context of the Bill and tourism development, it is imperative that the many thousands of employees working in all parts of the industry around the country have a representative on the board.
The Bill states: "The members of the Authority shall be appointed by the Minister from among persons who in the opinion of the Minister have experience of, and expertise in relation to, matters connected with the functions of the Authority." Any reading of this provision makes clear that an employee of the tourism industry should be appointed to the authority. Why should a person who has been educated in tourism, worked in the sector and developed links across the tourism spectrum not be included on the board? It is imperative that the amendment is accepted.
The Minister for Transport, in accepting that a similar provision be included in the Red Cross Bill, set a precedent. This case is even more important. The Red Cross is a relatively small organisation with just a few thousand members here, whereas some 150,000 to 160,000 people are involved in the tourism sector. By accepting the amendment, the Minster would be fully recognising the value of the employees of the tourism industry.
I remind Deputies that when they move amendments, they should use the words "I move".
I have already indicated I am prepared to meet the unions to discuss outstanding difficulties. One cannot resolve every difficulty prior to the establishment of the authority as we would need eternity to achieve that. We will try to resolve as many of the outstanding issues as we possibly can.
I do not propose to accept the amendments. The Bill does not provide for either management or worker participation on the board, nor does it provide representation rights for any specific industry groups. Certain groups are very keen to have representatives on the authority and have made their position clear. The difficulty I have is that if I change the current position by legislating for one group, I would, in all probability, have to try to legislate for all and I would almost certainly omit some groups.
Bord Fáilte did not have the worker director model. However, in the spirit of national partnership it has been the practice to have a trade union representative on the board. It is my intention to continue that practice and I informed Bord Fáilte and CERT unions accordingly at a recent meeting I had with them. In any event, I understand that, following a commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the Labour Relations Committee has conducted a review of worker participation. The review, which I have not seen, will be published following consideration by Government. I understand it will come before the Government shortly for approval for publication. In the context of the review, I understand there are various developments at European Union level which may also need to be taken into account.
The draft national agreement indicates that further discussion on this topic will take place around the LRC review. I have no intention of seeking to anticipate the outcome of such discussions. For these reasons, I will not accept the amendments. However, on the practical issue of union representation, I have made my position clear. There will be union representation on the board.
The Minister has given strong assurances today. I am glad he has made a commitment that he will enter into negotiations with the unions immediately. In view of this assurance, I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 12, subsection (2), line 2, after "Authority" to insert "and one of them shall be elected by employees of the Authority".
While I accept the goodwill of the Minister in terms of his commitment that there will be a union representative on the authority, my concern is that one does not know what information will be available to the Minister when he appoints the board. The appointment should be laid down in legislation. In that context I find it difficult to withdraw the amendment. There is a precedent. The Minister has stated that a number of bodies are seeking to be represented on the board and I accept this is the case. No other group can compare in terms of representation to the 150,000 employees, the broadest group in the tourism industry. There should be a union representative on the authority and I ask the Minister to reconsider his position.
Is the Deputy pressing the amendment?
On the issue of membership of the authority, it is vital it is representative of the tourism industry. A commitment has been given that State boards will, as far as possible, take gender equality and representation into consideration. I hope the Minister will strive to achieve 50:50 representation on the board given the level of participation of women in tourism. They are the main drivers of the industry. An amendment of mine relating to gender balance in the composition of the authority was not included here but I intend to submit it on Report Stage. It is also important that those appointed to the board be involved in the industry.
I believe three years rather than five years is a more appropriate length of time for people to serve on the board. I intend to table an amendment to this effect. There is no reason that people cannot be re-appointed by the Minister. A three year period will ensure a more dynamic board. It is a great honour to be appointed to a State board and the shorter period will also allow more people to serve in this way.
There is a Government guideline in regard to gender balance to the effect that all State boards have a 40% composition of women. In so far as Ministers can do so, there is a genuine effort to adhere to the guideline. In formulating the board of the tourism authority I will certainly seek to adhere to the guideline.
With regard to the issue of the length of time served by board members, Bord Fáilte board members are currently appointed for five years and they may be re-appointed. I understand that in CERT ordinary members are normally appointed for three years and the chairmanship is for five years and the chairman can be re-appointed. The five year term is reasonable and allows for a continuity of vision. It is important to bear in mind that where one has short-term directors, one inevitably ends up increasing the powers of the executive vis-à-vis the board. The provision which allows for the appointment of board members to terms not exceeding five years is a fair one. It can be discussed again on Report Stage. I am prepared to listen if people have suggestions for the improvement of the proposed system.
The Minister stated that he is willing to meet with the union representatives of employees of Bord Fáilte and CERT. I am aware that there is concern in regard to these negotiations. Will the Minister confirm that he will meet the unions and explore every possible avenue with them to ensure that the negotiations will be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible?
It is my intention to meet with the unions and try to resolve as many as possible of the outstanding difficulties. I have already met with them but they have sought another meeting which we have been trying to arrange. At least one individual was heavily involved in the social partnership talks and was, therefore, unavailable. I hope to be in a position shortly to set up a meeting between departmental officials and the unions. If it is necessary for me to meet with them again I will be only too pleased to do so.
The Minister suggested that a three year term as opposed to a five year term would give more power to the executive. I take the opposite view - if people are on a board for five years cosy relationships develop; that is unlikely to happen to such an extent after three years. There is a three year rule in many organisations. The GAA presidency comes to mind in this regard.
On the issue of the unions, the important thing is not so much that the Minister meets with them but that the existing problems be ironed out. A facilitator should be established so that by the time we reach Report Stage of the Bill, these matters will no longer be outstanding and the Minister can sign the commencement order immediately. Otherwise, we will have to return to this issue again on Report Stage.
The chief executive officer designate of the new authority will lead the negotiations. If there is a need for a facilitator at any point that issue can be addressed.
What remuneration and allowances are currently paid to the chairman and members of Bord Fáilte and CERT? What does the Minister propose to pay to the chairman and members of the new board?
The chairman of Bord Fáilte Éireann receives €15,237 and ordinary members receive €10,158 per annum. Both get routine travel expenses. The chairman of CERT receives €10,157 per annum while ordinary members do not receive any remuneration other than routine travel expenses. The intention is to probably have the same level of remuneration for the chairman and ordinary members as currently applies to Bord Fáilte Éireann.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 16, subsection (1), line 21, after "by" to insert "law or by".
The person in question also has to do what is duly authorised by law in regard to his or her actions within the authority. The amendment tightens up the control exercised in the Bill and also ensures that the person will have to duly carry out his or her commitments.
The Parliamentary Counsel has advised me that this amendment is unnecessary. Apparently, other than the Freedom of Information Act, which has been catered for separately in the legislation under section 29, there is no requirement in law, of which he is aware, for a member of staff, an adviser or a consultant to disclose confidential information unless authorised by the authority.
What happens if a member of staff is authorised to do something by the authority that relates to circumstances in which a person may be aware of wrongdoing within the authority? Does this allow that person to come forward if the authority authorises him or her not to disclose information which he or she has decided to make available to the relevant body, such as the Department or the Garda?
If there is information relating to an offence, for example, there is no prohibition on a person reporting to the relevant authorities. In fact, the opposite is the case.
The Bill states that disclosure cannot happen unless the person is duly authorised by the authority. Suppose the authority prohibits the disclosure of certain information, but a person conscientiously feels that it should be disclosed. Is that person protected under this section?
If there is a wrongdoing it is a matter for the individual concerned to make the report. There is nothing to prohibit him from doing so because the authority is not allowed to condone, commit or cover up a wrongdoing.
The following section states that someone guilty of an offence shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000. The Minister is stating categoricallythat, where somebody conscientiously makes a disclosure, he or she will not be pursued under section 2.
It is not an issue of conscience but a question of whether the item reported concerns a wrongdoing. It is not the intention of the legislation to cover one up nor can the authority do so. If there is a wrongdoing, this section certainly does not prevent a person from reporting it.
In light of my previous amendment, if the board considers my proposal useful in the future, will the structure permit the authority to establish a committee if it thinks it would help in the overall development of the tourism industry? I do not want to labour the point, but it is important that there be some compulsion on other departmental representatives to attend such a committee if it is set up. They will not turn up if there is no statutory basis for doing so or they will attend only one or two meetings. This is what happens with ad hoc committees. Will the Minister expand on that proposal in the context of the authority's setting up of committees?
The section permits the authority to establish committees to advise it in respect of the performance of its functions or to perform functions that the authority may delegate to it. It also provides for the payments of committee members' expenses if they are authorised by the Minister for Finance.
It is possible for the authority to set up committees and designate members from outside the authority. In that context, it is possible for it to establish the kinds of committees Deputy Deenihan envisages as being of use and the Bill is giving it statutory power to do this.
This subject arose when we were dealing with the Arts Bill. Does the prohibition on Oireachtas Members to be on the authority apply to the committees as well? I remember addressing a similar issue when we were dealing with the proposed standing committees which were never established. Can a Senator or a Deputy be a member of one of the committees?
We will have to check that. It was never the intention that Members of the Oireachtas would be members of either the board or the committees. The Deputy has made a good point and there seems to be no specific reference to the matter in the legislation.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 17, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) No grant may be paid by the Authority either directly or indirectly to any persons or organisations in breach of the Equal Status Act 2000.".
There was a broad discussion on this subject on both Committee and Report Stages of the Bill in the Seanad. It concerned the Irish Open in Portmarnock and the debate focused on the grant that was provided. I wish to broaden the debate. Grants paid in the past to sporting and other organisations made no reference to women's participation. It is now time that all grants issued by the Government be gender proofed. This applies to the Minister because he administers so many sporting grants. This committee will be examining the issue of women and sport.
A commitment to implementing the Equal Status Act 2000 should be evident in every Bill that allows for the possibility that grant aid be given by Bord Fáilte to organisations promoting sporting events. It is important to note that if an organisation has a policy of prohibiting women or girls from participation, it is the organisation's business, but it should not be getting grants. It is the choice of the organisation in a free, democratic society. Such organisations should have a balanced, gender policy when applying for grants.
I fully support this amendment. It is imperative that we have such a facility in the Bill. As Deputy Deenihan said, all Bills concerned with funding should have a section dealing with gender proofing. We know the problems that arose recently in respect of a golf course and it is worrying that they still arise in modern Ireland. If a club or organisation has a policy of gender equality, the Government should support it. This amendment should be included not only in this Bill but in other similar ones that involve funding.
I fully support this amendment and it is vital that it be taken on board.
Unfortunately, this amendment creates practical and legal difficulties. It would, for example, impose on the authority the duty to see whether each applicant for funding was in breach of the equal status legislation. That, in itself, would pose immense difficulties for the authority because clearly it is not an investigating authority.
I see the point being made. As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I introduced the Equal Status Act 2000. Certainly the main thrust of that legislation was to prevent discrimination and of course gender was one of the grounds on which discrimination was banned.
It is important to point out that since the introduction of that legislation there are only two affiliated golf clubs in the country which are male-only clubs. That is a sign of tremendous advancement. It is also indicative of the efficacy of the legislation itself.
I am very slow to bring legislation, which really relates to discrimination, into what is basically a tourism Bill. Clearly the Equal Status Act 2000 has set up powers and remedies which can be pursued. If, for example, it is the view of the Equality Authority that a club is a discriminating club, it is open to the authority, or indeed any other relevant complainant, to bring a case and seek to have the club declared a discriminating club. If the club is so declared, then the power exists for the intoxicating liquor licence applying to the club in question to be revoked.
It is significant that broader heavier sanctions are not contained in the legislation. It is of greater significance that a proposal which was originally made to include the sanction of prohibiting State grants or funding was withdrawn from the Equal Status Bill. The reason is that all punishments obviously must be proportionate. Both the Equal Status Bill and the Employment Equality Bill, its first cousin which, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I also introduced, were considered by the Supreme Court.
I want to make one matter clear. The funding being made available by Bord Fáilte, and indeed the sponsor of the Irish Open at Portmarnock, is being made available to the tournament, not to the club. The Irish Open is of tremendous importance to Ireland. We now have well over 200,000 visitors coming to the country to play golf. The Irish Open is beamed into 90 countries across the world and is the modern showpiece of golfing tourism in Ireland. It would be a great loss if we were unable to hold the Irish Open.
On the other hand, the issue has also exercised my mind. Through my officials I had discussions with the Parliamentary Counsel to see if there is some mechanism whereby we could ensure that clubs which are discriminating would be faced with the sanction of not receiving funding. There has been animated discussion on this issue with the Parliamentary Counsel and discussions are ongoing. It may be the case that an administrative solution might be best and we are certainly looking at that.
This is an issue which poses great difficulty. Clubs, at least the two golf clubs to which I referred, which exclude women have not been held to be discriminating clubs. When a club has not been so held, it would be difficult for one to discriminate against it.
For my own part, I met with representatives of Portmarnock Golf Club and made perfectly clear my own preference that they should lift the ban regarding women. The current position is that we are still having discussions with the Parliamentary Counsel to see what kind of amendment we might be able to bring forward. It is beginning to look like an administrative solution. However, we will discuss the matter further in the Dáil on Report Stage. I respect the views of committee members on this issue.
I sympathise with the dilemma outlined by the Minister. I totally accept his sincerity on this issue. It occurs to me that a possible administrative way out would be that organisations applying for funding would have to get a letter, which they would have to look for themselves, from the Equality Authority stating that the authority had not been made aware of any discriminatory practice. For something like this to work, it must work on the day the letter is applied for, in other words, I would not encourage the Equality Authority to go out looking for problems. It would give a reply based on whatever they had on file at a particular date. The Minister must also take into consideration that allegations of discrimination may not always stand up. Some formula would need to be found to verify that there was no legitimate complaint with the Equality Authority against a particular group.
There are a number of issues and a number of different approaches we can take here. First, the issue of Portmarnock Golf Club clouded the overall debate on gender equity. It goes far beyond that issue. In the case of Portmarnock, a grant was given, not to the club - although the club will benefit from it - but to the organisation running the tournament.
It goes far beyond that. Any organisation applying for funding should have a gender equity statement. It may relate to national lottery funding more than to funding through this body in the future. Due to the nature of funding in the past from Bord Fáilte, a number of sporting organisations benefit from it. As we are now promoting sports tourism, in the future organisations involved in sports tourism will be beneficiaries.
In any application for funding there should be a statement on gender equity. If nothing else, it would focus an organisation's mind and policy on this area. If a male only sports club were asked what it is doing to facilitate women to come to events, it would focus people's minds on the issue.
Recently I read a document on what is happening in America. In cases where there were parts of grants ring-fenced to ensure gender equity, it led to a major improvement in the participation of women in certain sports.
It is good that we are airing the issue here. The Minister is obviously considering it because of the debate in the Seanad, but there is a bigger issue than the one raised in the case of Portmarnock. It is much broader than that. If we want a society where gender equity is accepted, where there is equal access and no barriers for women, in particular, because women seem to be more discriminated against than men, then there must be a deliberate national policy on it. That is why this is an important amendment. I thank my colleagues for supporting me and for recognising the importance of this measure. The Minister has given a commitment that his officials are trying to find a solution; we will wait until Report Stage for that solution.
I agree that this is a broader problem and because of this it should be addressed in the equal status legislation or the employment equality legislation as far as it relates to employment. However, it is necessary for us to address the issue only in terms of giving grant aid to bodies or clubs, which must obviously ensure that they do not operate any discriminatory practices. In those circumstances, what I intend to do is to introduce a legislative or administrative provision to ensure that the National Tourism Development Authority will not fund a discriminating body. I will give a commitment that we will do that either through an administrative mechanism or a legislative mechanism. Meanwhile, the discussion with the Parliamentary Counsel is continuing. This is an extremely complex area fraught with a great deal of difficulty. However, I understand the thrust of the committee members' views, and there seems to be general agreement that funding should not go to a discriminating body. It is only a question of how we resolve that dilemma.
I suggest that the Minister pursue the idea that if he cannot prove beforehand that a club is engaging in discriminatory practices, a mechanism should be put in place for retrospective withdrawal of funds, and if the money is spent, a black mark should be made for future reference. In the meantime, is amendment No. 10 being withdrawn?
In view of the commitment by the Minister and the fact that he and his Department are obviously taking this very seriously, I will withdraw it. The quickest way to focus people is to have a grant involved. If there is the threat of money not being available or being withdrawn, people come around to official thinking very quickly.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 18, subsection (1), line 13, to delete "6 months" and substitute "4 months".
The annual report is very important. I notice that there was a proposal in the Seanad for the timeframe to be changed to three months. The Minister is his reply said that would be too short a period. Four months should be the maximum - it represents a third of the year. It is very important that the tourism industry has the report for the previous year because a lot can be learned from the figures, from the market research carried out and from the objectives usually set in such reports for the coming year. People can get a lot of information from the report.
Reports should be almost ready at the end of the year anyway. A report should be ongoing, and in this electronic age there is no reason a report should not be ready earlier in the year - a matter of a month or two. The effectiveness of a report after six months is totally diluted. People will have forgotten the previous year by then anyway. Whatever value a report has, the sooner it appears in the new financial year the better, if people are to learn lessons from it and obtain information. This amendment is based on this logic.
I support the amendment. This is one industry that really needs feedback on a constant basis and the sooner that happens, the better. We all get reports that are a year out of date and their value is minimal. The tourism industry depends upon figures and what came before. If the Minister can see his way to shortening the six month period, that would be of major benefit to tourism and indeed to his own Department.
The effect of amendment No. 11 would be to require the authority to submit its annual report, which usually includes its annual accounts as audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, not later than four months after the end of its financial year. In practice, it has been extremely rare for the Comptroller and Auditor General to complete the audit of the accounts of either Bord Fáilte or CERT within four months of the end of their accounting periods. If the amendment is accepted, the annual report is always likely to include incomplete information. This would not be desirable, because we would in effect be including unaudited accounts.
Bord Fáilte does produce an annual review and outlook around the month of January every year. It is a general review, not a specific one, but it gives a good idea of the position. With regard to my own amendment, I promised during the debate in the Seanad to bring forward an amendment to provide for the electronic publication of the authority's annual report, and my amendment provides for the report to be published on the Internet.
Will it be the practice to produce the report in both English and Irish? That is not specifically dealt with in the section.
Surely it would be possible to ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to prioritise this report? I am sure the reason it is being delayed is that it is not a priority. Due to the importance of tourism to the economy - to employment and to our GNP - it is critical that this report comes out earlier, for Departments and for the industry generally. I am sure the Comptroller and Auditor General would see the value of having it published earlier and would be prepared to facilitate, if requested by the Minister, any requests to have it dealt with expeditiously.
The review and outlook produced by Bord Fáilte is very useful to the industry, and in fact its members rely upon it for the information provided. The question of the Comptroller and Auditor General coming late to the accounts has little to do with priority and more to do with the resources in his office. I do not think he would be in a position to get around to it any sooner than he does at the moment. The office is an extremely busy one with several responsibilities and since the general information which seems to be required is contained in the outlook and review, we are satisfying the industry. Deputy O'Shea asked that the report be in Irish as well. We will do that.
Can more staff be employed at the C&AG's office? Could we make the request to highlight the importance of having the report earlier? I am sure the new board will be as efficient as possible and will endeavour to publish the report within six months. It should be an aspiration at the very least.
That would be an automatic aspiration for every board.
The Secretary General of my Department made a request in writing last year to the Comptroller and Auditor General seeking to achieve that. There is a problem in the Comptroller and Auditor General's office with resources because he has many responsibilities. It would not do any harm, however, to ask him again.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 18, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) As soon as may be after copies of a report to which subsection (1) applies are laid before each House of the Oireachtas, the authority shall cause the report to be published through the medium commonly referred to as the internet.".
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 19, lines 42 to 45, to delete subsection (2).
I find this subsection very frustrating. The chief executive is put in the position that he cannot express an opinion on the merits or any policy of the Government or the board. We are amalgamating two boards to ensure a mechanism is in place to advance tourism. The chief executive of the board must display the dynamic leadership necessary to ensure tourism develops but this section deters him from forming an opinion on policy. He will not be able to change Government policy but he should be in a position to state the merits of policy, otherwise the thrust of the Bill is called into question.
We are uniting the two bodies to advance the industry. Agriculture was the previous leading industry in rural areas but it has been overtaken by tourism. This section, however, states that ideas cannot be advanced by the chief executive. It is necessary that the chief executive works in tandem with Government policy but this is overly restrictive and is detrimental to the advancement of tourism as a dynamic industry which attracts a great deal of money into the Exchequer.
This is an extraordinary provision. It smacks of Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany. It is a gagging order. The chief executive of the new board, when addressing a conference, could not comment on VAT increases in tourism. There is no place in the Bill for this draconian provision. It means that the chief executive will be permanently gagged. No matter what we say, when in office we have all questioned Government policy. The chief executive could have an opinion on signposting or the state of the roads and would have to question Government policy.
There is no precedent for this provision. The chief executive of this body will be an important public figure. The tourism industry will seek advice and direction from him and if he cannot question Government policy or express an opinion on it, he may as well not be there at all. This is a draconian gagging order that runs contrary to the spirit of the Bill.
It is an extraordinary provision and I want to hear why the Minister considers it necessary. A problem arises because section 29 states the body is covered by the remit of the Freedom of Information Act. When we say that the chief executive shall not question or express an opinion, do we mean in public? He might express his opinion at a meeting of the authority and copies of that expression might come into the public domain through the Freedom of Information Act. Does this mean that he cannot express his or her opinion to his or her family or friends? To what degree is the chief executive restricted? This is unworkable and ill advised.
There is a general misunderstanding of this provision. Section 32(2) states that in the performance of his or her duties under the section, the chief executive shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy. It is for the purposes of that section only and is directly related to section 32(1) on accountability of the chief executive to the Committee of Public Accounts.
The provision was questioned in the Seanad but it must be emphasised that it does not apply other than at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts. That is perfectly logical. Standing Order 156 (7)(b) sets out the terms of reference of the Committee of Public Accounts. It states that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or member of the Government, or the merits or objectives of such policies. The purpose of the provision is not to gag the chief executive officer but to maintain the distinction that the Minister is responsible for policy formulation whereas the Accounting Officer of the organisation who is being interviewed, in this instance by the Committee of Public Accounts, is meant to be an instrument of that policy and is responsible only for his or her stewardship of its implementation.
The question of the chief executive not expressing an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government, or a Minister of the Government or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy only relates to the chief executive officer's appearance before the Committee of Public Accounts which itself, under its own terms of reference, is prohibited from looking into the merits of policies or the merits of the objectives of those policies. It is perfectly logical and it can now be seen that it is not the intention to gag the chief executive officer. It is important to point out that this provision is based on a number of precedents contained in legislation.
If there were questions in front of the Committee of Public Accounts, it would be the Minister who would have to go through the policy aspects.
Within the next year we will have Fáilte Ireland before us. In those circumstances, could the chief executives offer an opinion on Government policy? Does it apply to this committee?
No. It has not been the practice of chief executive officers of State boards or organisations to criticise Government policy, irrespective of the make up of the Government. There would be no prohibition on a chief executive officer coming before the committee and giving his or her views.
There is a difference between criticism and expressing an opinion.
There is no difficulty with that.
The precedent is enshrined in legislation. We have clarified that.
I will return to Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge on this. In the meantime the Minister might look at the merit of enshrining the provision in amendment No. 14 in the legislation. We spent a long time discussing the Irish language. There was a positive turn out for the Irish classes in the Houses and the Bill should make a statement on the Irish language in Gaeltacht areas.
We are carrying out the final examination of section 8 to be sure the various drafting formats are consistent with our intentions. There may not be any problems but I may have to change it on Report Stage.
On the dissolution of the board upon establishment, I emphasise that the issue of pension rights, salary scales and other benefits enjoyed by people in both organisations should be resolved. In the past, when boards were amalgamated, two people would sit at the same desk, do the same job but receive different rates of pay. Before the dissolution of Bord Fáilte and CERT, this must be recognised. The dissolution of Bord Fáilte is a major event and we should mention the major contribution it has made to tourism over the years.
What land and property is the Minister referring to here? What land bank do both organisations hold? Is it envisaged that some of their accommodation may be in excess of their needs?
That is not envisaged. This is a standard provision to ensure the land held by Bord Fáilte and CERT at present would transfer automatically on the establishment date to the new authority.
CERT paid into a private pension fund. What will happen to that? Bord Fáilte has a public pension. What happens to the pension fund into which the CERT employees paid? Both sets of employees will go in on a level playing field with similar conditions. Former CERT employees should not have to continue to pay into the private fund while those from Bord Fáilte do not.
Section 36 deals with pensions. There are standard provisions for superannuation. People's pensions, pension rights and the contributions they have made will be fully protected. There is no question of anyone being disadvantaged in pension terms as a result of becoming an employee of the new authority. Any funds under the remit of either organisation, or as a consequence of people being employed by either organisation, would transfer to the new organisation.
So there will not be any problems.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 5, line 8, after "AS" to insert "AN tÚDARÁS NÁISIÚNTA FORBARTHA TURASÓIREACHTA OR IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE".