andMr. Hegarty asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport, in view of the serious deterioration in the petrol supply situation for tourists and the confusion resulting from the inefficiency of the petrol voucher system, if he will take immediate steps to improve the system and to increase the number of distribution outlets for petrol vouchers.
Private Notice Questions. - Petrol Supply.
I do not accept that the petrol voucher scheme is inefficient in any significant way nor have I heard any complaints that motoring tourists have been unable to obtain vouchers.
Petrol vouchers for overseas tourists bringing own cars are available at seven car ferry terminals, and for Northern Ireland tourists at Belfast and Derry. Tourists hiring cars get their vouchers at 17 distribution outlets throughout the Republic. In practice it is only tourists hiring cars who have to go to these outlets and I understand, in addition, that a full tank of petrol is normally part of the hiring contract. In addition most tourists are able to obtain ample supplies without using the vouchers at all. Bord Fáilte are continually monitoring the working of the scheme and are satisfied that there is no need for additional distribution outlets at the present moment.
I am concerned that the industrial action by oil company employees should not cause problems and undo the good results achieved by the scheme and hope that the intervention by the Minister for Labour will bring about a speedy end to the dispute.
The Minister seems to suggest that he is entirely satisfied with the situation. Does he not accept that there are considerable difficulties particularly in rural areas, where tourists are long distances away from tourist office headquarters and which can possibly result in a round journey of more than 100 miles to obtain the vouchers?
Has the Deputy got a question?
I would not accept what the Deputy is saying. The arrangements made by Bord Fáilte are very satisfactory. There are 200 designated petrol stations supplying petrol under the scheme. Usually a tourist needs to use only one or two lots of the vouchers. I am confident that the arrangements made for ensuring the supply of vouchers is satisfactory.
I would not agree. Does the Minister not realise that this voucher system is not working very well?
That question has been asked and answered. I am moving to the next business.
Is the Minister aware that some of the garages concerned would not always have petrol? Have any arrangements been made to ensure that the garages are open at a fixed time to facilitate the tourists? Is the Minister aware also that the average mileage covered by a tourist is 1,200 miles and that 20 gallons of petrol are not nearly adequate for that?
That is a separate question.
There are fixed times during which the garages remain open to supply tourists. The scheme has been developed to allow for a tourist to be given a second supply of vouchers after the nine days have expired.
But only after nine days.
Is it the intention to drive them out of the country after nine days?
Having regard to all the problems facing the tourist industry one would have expected the Deputies opposite to be more responsible in this matter.
We are being responsible.
This matter has been raised on a number of occasions. I have explained on each of these occasions that the scheme is working well and that there have not been complaints from tourists. The whole situation is monitored carefully as tourists leave the country after their holiday and it has been found in many cases that they did not need to use the vouchers but handed them back on their departure because they had been able to get petrol without them. The Deputy knows very well that the scheme is working satisfactorily. I have gone abroad to try to assure people that petrol will be available for visitors under this scheme.
We are making constructive suggestions in an effort to help the tourist industry. However, I would remind the Minister that when I suggested on 26 June that the scheme be extended to include visitors from Northern Ireland he told me that this would not be possible, but the following week he adopted my suggestion. Will he now accept the constructive suggestion I am making in order to encourage tourists to come here?
We must move on to the next business.
Would the Minister be prepared to extend the distribution system to the permanent tourist offices in local areas?
I do not see anything constructive in the suggestion made.
As I have said, the Minister told me on 26 June that it was impossible to adopt the suggestion I was making then, but he went on the following week to do as I had suggested.
I explained at the time that the administrative arrangements in regard to the North might be impossible. I may have said they were impossible.
That is what the Minister said.
I accept that, but the fact is that I considered the situation again and, though the administrative arrangements are still very difficult, I decided to make the scheme available to tourists from Northern Ireland. I would emphasise again that the scheme is working well, but the Deputies opposite continue to raise the matter and to get publicity in the media that is damaging the tourist industry, an industry in respect of which there are enough difficulties this year.
We are trying to improve the situation.
The Minister's replies would indicate that he has been unaffected by the eight-and-a-half hour meeting of yesterday.
I have called the next business.
With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I wish to raise on the adjournment the matter of the timetable and the method of the implementation of the plan for extra remedial teachers as announced by the Minister for Education on 2 May last.
The Chair will communicate with the Deputy.