Tourism Industry.

Questions (13, 14)

Damien English

Question:

100 Mr. English asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the timescale for the first report of the high level implementation group established to drive forward and monitor the report (details supplied) of the Tourism Policy Review Group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6155/04]

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Emmet Stagg

Question:

134 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will report on his address to the Tourism Action Plan 2003-2005 Implementation Group, at its inaugural meeting of 5 February 2004; the precise role and remit of the implementation group; the number of times it will meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6134/04]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 134 together.

On 14 January last, I announced the membership of a high level group to oversee the implementation of the initial two-year Action Plan for Irish Tourism, recommended by the Tourism Policy Review Group in its report, New Horizons for Irish Tourism — An Agenda for Action. Mr. John Travers, who chaired the Tourism Policy Review Group, will chair the implementation group. The other members are Philip Furlong, Secretary General of my Department, Jim Murphy, managing director, Prem Group, Michael O'Donoghue, managing director, O'Donoghue-Ring Hotels, Eileen O'Mara Walsh, O'Mara Travel, Raymond J. Rooney, businessman, and Paul Tansey, economist.

In line with the recommendation in the report, the high level group will advise me on the implementation on the Tourism Action Plan 2003-2005, publish reports on its work, results and deliberations at six-monthly intervals, and sit for a period up to the end of 2005. Under its terms of reference, the group will capitalise on the current impetus for change and modernisation within the public and private sectors, to ensure that the action plan is seen as an integrated set of actions. It will work in partnership with the tourism industry, the key State agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, and relevant Departments highlighting, in particular, constraints to progress, and make recommendations on how best they might be addressed, and by whom.

The implementation group, which has agreed to meet monthly, held its inaugural meeting on 5 February last. In addressing the group, I expressed my appreciation of its willingness to advise and assist me in what I regard as one of the key objectives in terms of my tourism portfolio. I highlighted the co-ordinated and partnership approach that underpins the terms of reference, and mentioned my belief that, in the years ahead, the tourism agenda will be influenced heavily by developments in the wider economy and by the potential for concerted action on the part of the tourism industry itself. I said that I believed the group would be in a strong position to influence the wider agenda in support of future sustainable tourism development. The first report of the implementation group will cover the period to end July 2004 and I would expect to receive it before the end of August.

I welcome the Minister's response. I have absolute confidence in the chairman of the implementation group, Mr. John Travers, and the other members of it to carry out their work effectively and efficiently.

This is a practical report and I hope it will not gather dust as previous reports on tourism have. The Minister did his best to ensure it will not. The report has some 77 recommendations. How does the Minister propose that the implementation group will advance the proposals in regard to infrastructure? I refer in particular to the N69, the N86 and the Ring of Kerry road? The Minister travels the Ring of Kerry road on a weekly basis and he will be aware it is in bad condition. Given the strong recommendation in regard to infrastructure in the report, how does the Minister propose to ensure there will be further investment in these main tourist arteries, which are national secondary roads, when road funding is being directed at our national primary road system?

It is true that funding is being directed at our national primary road system and unquestionably there have been considerable improvements in recent years. I accept it is true that national secondary routes require attention. I have strongly lobbied for the inclusion of the Ring of Kerry route and the Dingle-Tralee route in the national development plan and they are included as specific tourist routes which should require funding. The hope is that between now and 2006 they will receive further funding. They have received funding in the past, some of it substantial.

Regarding the implementation of the more than 70 recommendations in the report, the implementation group has been asked to implement these in the manner outlined in the report. The report is unique in that it not only sets out the key objectives but also the methods for their achievement. I expect the group to follow the report guidelines on implementation.

Will the implementation group work solely through the Minister's Department? Regarding roads, is it within the group's right to approach the NRA or a specific local authority when following certain recommendations, or must it work only through the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, with the infrastructure created in that way? Is the group an independent body which can make representations to ensure that the more than 70 recommendations are implemented? Is that within its remit?

It would be helpful if I set out the terms of reference of the group. The group will advise the Minister on the implementation of the tourism action plan 2003-2005, publish a report on its work, results and deliberations at six-monthly intervals, and sit a for period up to the end of 2005. It will capitalise on the current impetus for change and modernisation in the public and private sectors to ensure that the action plan is seen as an integrated set of actions requiring a co-ordinated impartial approach across Departments, agencies and industry towards implementation. The report will discuss with lead actors their operational plans for, and commitment to, the implementations of actions falling within their remit, including effectiveness indicators against which performance will be measured. It will: highlight any constraints to progress and recommend how they might be addressed, and by whom; recommend any changes that should be made to the action plan in light of experience as it is rolled out; and contribute to the evaluation of the tourism strategy in autumn 2005, or earlier if the tourism environment proves to be more volatile than anticipated. This step will be a milestone in the ongoing review process which will be an inherent element of the development process for the industry in the future.

Another key recommendation involves access rights to land. The Minister may be aware of a recent court case where a farmer was imprisoned because of a problem he had with people walking on his land. Does the Minister envisage the implementation group proposing new legislation to clarify access rights for visitors to the countryside, and is that a priority? Going on information I have received, the problem is going to become more widespread right across the country.

Access to land, and walking across land, is of immense importance because of the number of people who participate in that exercise in the country, including people from abroad who come here for that purpose. The issue comes under the remit of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to the extent that it impinges on rural life. I understand that he has set up a group to look at means by which the problem of access to land for walkers can be resolved, and I hope its efforts are successful.

Sports Facilities Audit.

Questions (15, 16, 17)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

101 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if a national audit of local sports facilities commenced in mid-2003 as outlined in his Department’s mission statement; the envisaged timeframe for completion of this audit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6107/04]

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Dan Boyle

Question:

108 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the impact the national audit of local sports facilities will have in facilitating the provision of sport and recreation facilities on a nationwide basis as per the mission statement of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6109/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Question:

115 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress being made in the national audit of local sports facilities as outlined in his Department’s mission statement, including the timeframe for completion of this audit and the expected impact this audit will have on the provision of sport and recreation facilities nation-wide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6117/04]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101, 108 and 115 together.

The commitment as outlined in the programme for Government, to complete a national audit of local sports facilities, is being undertaken as part of the development of a long-term strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities. The first step towards developing such a strategy, a review of the existing sports capital programme under the Department's expenditure review programme, is currently being finalised. The outcome of this review will help identify the level of facilities that have been put in place in recent years with the assistance of national lottery funding, and produce recommendations on priorities for future funding.

Following this, I intend to establish an interagency steering group to begin work immediately on developing a long-term strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities. One of the first tasks for this group will be to oversee the commencement of the audit of sports facilities. Given the volume of facilities that may potentially be included in such an audit, covering the entire country, it is important that a robust methodology is used to record, classify and assess the facilities to be included.

In light of the enormity of the task, it could take a number of years to complete a comprehensive audit of all sports facilities. However, it may be possible to conduct the work in stages, to ensure that some useful results are available in the short term for input into the proposed strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities due for completion within the next year.

Once completed, the audit will enable policy makers to map the location of the various sports facilities throughout the country, leading to a more effective targeting of new or additional facilities which will complement rather than duplicate what is already available. In this way, a more efficient use of financial resources can be achieved, and a fostering of greater co-operation between complementary facility providers can be encouraged.

Is it not true that the Minister would be better off throwing in the towel right now and saying, "Mea culpa.” This is not going to happen within the lifetime of the Government. I remember talking to the Minister last year about the nationwide audit of local sports facilities, which is crucial, not just in terms of providing more much-needed facilities, but also in terms of working with schools which are losing out because their physical education in the sports ground has been taken away. A much more interactive approach is needed. Is the Minister aware that in his own strategy statement he said that one of the priorities is to facilitate the provision of sport and recreation facilities nationwide, to include the efficient and effective delivery of the sports capital programme, and the interagency group? Did the Minister say in the strategy statement that he wants to see a national audit of local sports facilities completed, and that this audit would begin by mid-2003? Since that is not within a cat’s whisker of beginning by June 2004, will the Minister acknowledge that this strategy is up in the air, is a failure, and that this is one of the key issues in the programme for Government which will not have carried out within the lifetime of the Government?

The strategy is not a failure. It has been decided that as a first step, before the commencement of the audit, an assessment of what has been achieved under the Department's sports capital programme should be carried out. That is perfectly logical. This was done in the context of an expenditure review of the programme which seeks to assess the benefits that the investment to date has yielded, and to identify any difficulties or inefficiencies associated with the operation of the programme. The review was to have been completed during 2003 to facilitate the start of the audit during that year, but has taken longer than expected due to the scale of the programme and the time required to analyse the volume of information collected. The report on this review is expected in the near future.

One must realise that there has been major expenditure under the sports capital programme since 1998. Almost €270 million has been allocated to more than 3,000 projects across the country. It is not a simple task. The audit in Northern Ireland took over two years. Once the assessment is complete, we will move to the next stage.

Can the Minister say what will be included in the national audit? It will obviously include more than what sports facilities are available. Will it deal with the use of a facility by local schools, for example, with access for the disabled, and the practice of gender balance in a facility, that is, provision for male and female sports? Will the audit be more than an account of the facilities that are there? Will it include usage and access for various groups? I am sure the audit will do more than merely count the facilities available.

As I said, €270 million has to date been allocated to 3,500 projects throughout the country under the sports capital programme, and this is only since 1998. It is, therefore, apparent that a considerable amount of work has been done. I anticipate that the audit would represent a comprehensive body of work which will enable policymakers to map the location of the various sports facilities throughout the country, whether they are provided through voluntary sports organisations, are funded privately or have benefited through public funding.

It is fair to say that a better fix on the location of existing sports facilities will lead to more effective and more accurately targeted funding of new facilities and a more efficient use of financial resources. This will apply across all Departments involved in the provision of sports facilities. It will be comprehensive and I anticipate it will deal with issues such as the disabled, gender and so on to which Deputy Deenihan referred.

Information Technology Strategy.

Questions (18, 19)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

102 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if plans to develop and manage information technology to support the delivery of his Department’s mission and objectives, as outlined in its mission statement, including a review of IT strategies of former Departments and the new departmental IT strategy for 2003-06, will be affected by his Department’s and agencies’ relocation to Killarney; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6110/04]

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Eamon Ryan

Question:

125 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the original cost projects for plans to develop and manage information technology to support the delivery of his Department’s mission and objectives, as outlined in its mission statement, including a review of IT strategies of former Departments and the new departmental IT strategy for 2003; the projected monetary and percentage increase envisaged as a result of the decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6115/04]

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Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 125 together.

The decision to relocate the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism in Killarney will not affect the plans to develop and manage information technology in support of delivering the Department's objectives. The relocation will mean that the application and use of information technology will become central to the efficient delivery of services and communications.

The first statement of strategy 2003-05 of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism provided for a review of the two information technology strategies of the former Departments of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and Tourism Sport and Recreation, and for the development of a new IT strategy for the period 2003 to 2006. This review has been carried out and a new IT strategy has been agreed.

The new strategy identifies a number of new projects to support delivery of objectives set out in the Department's mission statement. These comprise a specially made and developed management information system comprising a sophisticated financial accounting database system, the estimated cost of which to 2008 is €1.1 million; a new human resource management system comprising an enhanced database system developed on PeopleSoft-HRMS software — the PeopleSoft product was selected by the Department of Finance for development as the human resource management system for the Civil Service — the estimated cost of which is €172,000; and the installation of a new suite of security products for the Department's local area network to enhance the Department's ability to protect itself from potentially damaging scenarios associated with the world wide web. The main elements of the improved security resource comprise a superior anti-virus product with filtering capability and a firewall system capable of meeting the security requirements of the Government's data virtual private network link completed at the end of 2003, the cost of which was €23,000.

Additionally, the IT strategy provides for the ongoing replacement of network hardware and software as dictated by normal end-of-life scenarios, and an annual budget allocation of €150,000 is available to meet this need. If the Department is decentralised to a building in Killarney equipped with a modern networking architecture, it should be possible to relocate all the existing software and some of the hardware and systems to the new location. It is not anticipated that significant additional costs will accrue to the projects that can be attributed to decentralisation. Some additional hardware and connectivity costs may arise but it is too early to quantify these.

Has the Minister received any extra funding for connectivity costs? What estimates have been done for video-conferencing facilities, for example? I know the Minister will not plaster the beautiful Kerry landscape with "Welcome to O'Donoghue country" posters but, given the huge furore over the decentralisation programme, he will acknowledge that it might be difficult to get staff to move to Kerry, regardless of how beautiful it is, if they have been working in Dublin and are used to it.

Has the Minister considered the impact of IT training on people who will move from other Departments to his one? Will there be an additional cost for the training of staff? Is the local loop unbundled sufficiently in the Kerry region to cater for broadband communications? Given that tourism is a face to face, hands-on type of business, does the Minister acknowledge video-conferencing is essential and that we need proper access facilities and proper training from an IT perspective?

The strategy statement said the IT strategy would be in place by April 2003. Was it in place by then? Will the mid-term review of the IT strategy due to be completed by the end of 2004 be completed by then? What are the financial implications, if any, of the relocation and the IT extras which will need to be tidied up by the end of the year?

The new IT strategy to be developed for the Department was to have been developed for the period 2003 to 2006. I understand the review has been carried out and that the IT strategy has been agreed. There is no question or doubt but that video-conferencing is desirable. It will be useful in the decentralisation of Departments to the various locations.

I have no doubt about the capacity of Killarney, from a communications perspective, to ensure a successful home for the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. It will add greatly to the town and to the county. It is appropriate that a Department of this nature should locate in Ireland's tourism capital. It is something to which many people look forward.

I do not anticipate any IT difficulties. I agree it is desirable that staff are trained in new methodologies and I understand this is ongoing. I am as confident as I possibly can be that all will go smoothly.

Community Games.

Questions (20, 21)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

103 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will report on the outcome of his meeting with the community games organisation in 2003 and the assistance his Department will be providing to ensure that the community games will have a permanent home for the national annual games; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6114/04]

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Charlie O'Connor

Question:

190 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will report on the contacts he has had with the community games movement regarding this country; if organisations need to identify a new home for the annual national games held for many years in Mosney holiday centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6316/04]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 103 and 190 together.

I had a number of meetings during 2003 with representatives of the community games organisation at which I advised them of my desire to ensure that they had some certainty regarding a venue for their national events. The most recent of these meetings was held on 19 November 2003.

At my request officials of my Department met the reception and integration agency which, as the Deputy will be aware, has arrangements in place for the use of the Mosney centre. Arising from this latter meeting, officials of my Department visited Mosney on 13 February 2004 to meet the reception and integration agency and representatives of the community games organisation.

During what was a positive meeting, all sides confirmed their willingness to help ensure that the facilities in Mosney continue to be available to host the games. The community games representatives expressed their satisfaction with the range and quality of the facilities and services available at Mosney and their suitability for their national events. They also confirmed that there is no other venue in Ireland with the scale and variety of facilities required for their national events as currently structured and that any question of providing a special, dedicated venue on the scale required, which would be used only a few times a year, would be unrealistic.

I am pleased to say that the reception and integration agency confirmed at the meeting that, for as long as it is using Mosney, the community games can avail of the facilities there, and certainly up to and including 2005. The agency hopes it will be in a position to agree to a continuation of the use of the Mosney facilities beyond 2005, in which case the future of the community games at Mosney will be secured for some time to come. This arrangement was welcomed by the community games representatives at the meeting.

I thank the Minister for his efforts in this regard. The community games has a long-standing tradition in Ireland and has helped to develop and produce some of our finest athletes and encourage people to participate in sport. The Minister will acknowledge that Mosney is synonymous with the community games and that any efforts on his part to ensure that continues are welcome. Are there any long-term plans to set up a task force to ensure Mosney can be used beyond 2005? What, if any, financial requirements would be made of the Minister's Department to ensure that happens?

The needs of the community games, in terms of its national finals, are unique in sport. It deals with a large number of children and young people who need facilities for a multiplicity of sports, disciplines and events as well as extensive residential accommodation, catering and so on over a few weekends, preferably all on the one site.

They admit that the idea of a specially dedicated facility for community games, which would require extensive and costly facilities and which would only be used a few times a year, is totally unrealistic. That presents us with a difficulty in proceeding. We have to ascertain if it will be possible to obtain Mosney after 2005. The reception and integration agency has been very kind in this respect and I acknowledge the generosity of its director, Mr. Waters, in ensuring that the games can proceed at Mosney into the foreseeable future. The reception and integration agency has stated that for as long as it is in Mosney, there will not be a difficulty for the community games.

As regards an event as unique as this one, all we can do is look ahead, in so far as we possibly can, with a view to ensuring that the games will not die. We have succeeded in doing this and I am confident that in the future we will be in a position to accommodate the community games again in one fashion or another. I thank Deputy Gogarty for his kind words. I am very committed to the games and I will try to do everything humanly possible to ensure their continuance at one venue or another.

From the contacts I have had with them, I know that the organisers of the community games appreciate the efforts the Minister has made to ensure their continued use of Mosney. He gave that commitment to the House on previous occasions when the issue arose. The history of the community games has been one of major benefit to the country. In future, the Abbotstown facility could meet the criteria laid down for the community games, apart from the residential aspect. Could the development of Abbotstown resolve the problems being encountered by the community games in the long term? In his statement, the Minister said he was happy with Mosney but there are question marks over its residential capacity and the games' organisers are concerned about that. Is it feasible for Abbotstown to host the community games if the residential aspect could be facilitated?

I certainly foresee Abbotstown playing a major role in the development of Irish sport in future. It will be an extremely useful facility from the perspective of the community games. The residential aspect is the problem, given the difficulties in housing the thousands of children participating in such an event. That is why Mosney is so useful because the residences are already there and have been used for years.

It is difficult to predict what will happen in future concerning the community games. We are assured of having them until 2005 and the reception and integration agency will be in Mosney beyond that date so there is no immediate threat to the games. We should look to the future, however, to see how we can ensure the continuance of the games. In this respect, we will continue our involvement with the community games organisers. I feel sure that when this year's games are over, the organisers will continue their dialogue with us regarding next year's games. We will try to ensure their continuance from year to year.

During the Minister's discussions with the community games organisation, was there any mention of a more regional approach to the games in future? Adopting a more inter-provincial approach in advance of the national championships may be a way of getting over the accommodation problem.

We did not enter into such a discussion but it is clear that the community games organisers want to continue the existing format. The involvement of so many children from various backgrounds in a communal setting reflects the community aspects of the games. The objective of the games is to foster a love of sport among young people, as well as promoting community involvement. As Deputies have said, the big problem is providing temporary accommodation for that number of children during the games. We have resolved the difficulty up to now but we will have to revisit the issue.

As regards Deputy Deenihan's question, to the best of my memory, the games organisers did not mention anything about running the championships on a more provincial basis. They still favour the current format.

Tourism Industry.

Questions (22)

Richard Bruton

Question:

104 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the effect that the weakening dollar will have on the number of US tourists coming here in 2004; the measures he intends to put in place to make Ireland a more price attractive destination for US tourists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6156/04]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

In 2003, Ireland performed strongly in the US market against stiff international competition. While final figures are not yet available from the Central Statistics Office, Tourism Ireland estimates a 6% increase in US visitor numbers to the Republic of Ireland last year despite the impact of the war, increased threats of terrorism and SARS. This compares to a 1% increase in the number of Americans visiting Europe generally and a decrease of 8% experienced by our near neighbours in the United Kingdom.

Building on the positive performance last year, the early indications are that interest in visiting Ireland remains strong among US consumers in 2004. The target for 2004 is for a 6.8% growth in visitor numbers from the US. In that context, Ireland's competitive position appears to be holding up well even against the continued depreciation of the dollar against the euro. However, as the main holiday booking season is a number of weeks away, it is too early to make definite judgments on any adverse currency impact.

The euro is more than 25% stronger now than it was at the start of 2003. This problem is not unique to Ireland but to all eurozone countries and to sterling. It is particularly important, however, that prices on the ground in Ireland are kept in line with those in other eurozone destinations. To bring home the message that Ireland continues to offer value for money, Tourism Ireland is engaging in a major co-operative marketing campaign this year with tour operators and carriers in this vital market, which will promote a range of specially priced offers for travel to Ireland. These offers are also featured on a special offers website,www.shamrock.org, which is being extensively promoted to the American public in key US cities.

As I have said in previous replies on the broader issue of competitiveness, I very much welcome the fact that the key message from the tourism policy review group is that restoring competitiveness is the major challenge facing the tourism sector and that the industry must offer better value to its customers if it is to maximise the opportunities for future growth.

Competitiveness must be a function of the overall Irish tourism experience for customers relative to other competing locations, beginning with their initial inquiries about visiting Ireland through to their travelling here, where they go when they arrive, where they stay, who they meet, what they do, what they see and their perceptions about price and quality.

Despite the growth, last year we were still over 100,000 short of the peak numbers in 2000. Therefore, we still have some way to go to get back to that level. The indications I am getting from the market show that while it was looking well, there are now some doubts overhanging it. The Minister should ensure that we will remain as price-competitive as possible to attract more American tourists. For example, green fees can easily be influenced, with air fares and accommodation costs, including bed and breakfast establishments, guest houses and hotels. Restaurants and other services must remain price-competitive also. The strengthening euro will make Ireland less competitive, although I realise that the same problem exists across the eurozone. The Minister is aware that we have high staff rates and are on top of the European price league. He should take steps to ensure that, wherever possible, green fees in 2004 are kept at the same level as they were last year. Other prices must be kept under control also. If the figures do not prove to be as good as last year, does the Minister have contingency plans for the American market to attract more tourists? The Taoiseach, the Minister and other Ministers will visit America on St. Patrick's Day. What plans are in place to promote Ireland on St. Patrick's Day given that it represents an ideal opportunity?

We have been in contact with Ministers travelling abroad to give them information packs on the countries they are visiting and speaking notes and so on to promote Ireland. The Taoiseach correctly identified St. Patrick's Day as a window of opportunity for Ireland. He is of the view that visits by Ministers to various parts of the world and America, in particular, can be extremely beneficial in terms of ensuring Ireland's profile is raised. It is also a time when Ireland can be sold for other purposes and, therefore, such opportunities are grasped, which is wise.

We have also been in consultation with Ministers regarding the possibility of them becoming involved in tourism promotion at other times of the year when they travel abroad in connection with their portfolios, except when they are on EU business. The Taoiseach is also anxious that this should happen. The tourism industry performed strongly in America last year considering that the number of Americans who travelled abroad reduced by 8%. However, the number of Americans who visited Ireland increased by 6% while the increase in the number who visited Europe generally only increased by 1%. Ireland's success was not mirrored elsewhere in Europe. We are looking forward to a better year this year with a growth target of 6.8%. All the indications are this is achievable.

The Deputy referred to competitiveness and costs. Certain developments in recent months should result in tangible benefits for the sector and make a difference to competitiveness and value for money. For example, a minimal increase in the budget in indirect taxation and excise duties on products that are part and parcel of the tourism experience, will help. The Fáilte Ireland initiative in co-operation with the industry to address the high cost of insurance premiums in the sector and the implementation of the Government's insurance reform package will help, as will the reduction in the cost of accommodation reported by the CSO earlier this month. There has been a significant reduction in annual inflation. It stood at 1.8% in January, which is a major reduction from 3.5% in July 2003 when the review group was finalising its report, and it is much more in line with the EU average rate.

I am pleased with the reports regarding the US market so far. With regard to contingency plans, a strong marketing campaign has been under way in the US since late last year for this season. The campaign will yield results. The carrying capacity of airlines from the US remains a worry. If there was a greater number of gateway cities, which Aer Lingus or other airlines could utilise, the numbers visiting Ireland would increase beyond our projected growth. That is an issue for another day.

If the dollar continues to experience problems against the euro, can the Minister do anything to make it more attractive for American tourists to visit Ireland? Their holiday will cost them 25% more this year than in 2002.

The strength of the euro against the dollar is not conducive to helping the situation. However, other countries are experiencing this difficulty. Nonetheless, since the Iraq war, there is a pent up desire among many Americans to travel. This will more than offset the disadvantage that all countries within the eurozone are experiencing as a result of the low value of the dollar against the euro. A strong marketing campaign is under way in the US and this year we will be close if we do not exceed our record year in that market. I am confident we will be there or thereabouts.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.