Other Questions. - Tourist Victim Support Service.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

14 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the financial support, if any, his Department provides for the tourist victim support service; if his attention has been drawn to the call from the service for greater support from tourism and commercial interests; if he will encourage this support; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15145/98]

Bord Fáilte, out of moneys provided from my Vote, and Dublin Tourism, is providing a total of £15,000 this year to the tourist victim support service, TVSS, which represents almost 50 per cent of its income.

I am aware the TVSS has recently called again on private sector tourism interests to make a much more substantial financial contribution to it. With a very few notable exceptions, that contribution has been negligible up to now and, earlier this year, in a formal message of support, I urged the broad tourism industry to provide a worthwhile level of financial assistance. I understand that Bord Fáilte also independently undertook a campaign to elicit more funding from the industry.

As on previous occasions, I applaud the TVSS for its very valuable work, which it undertakes with substantial voluntary effort. It is high time the industry came forward with an appropriate level of assistance, especially in the context of the present tourism boom.

Does the Minister accept it is a very serious feature of Irish tourism that a service such as the TVSS even exists? If our image as a friendly, hospitable nation is not to be seriously damaged, we must ensure that, as far as possible, tourists are safe but that if they are subjected to criminal activity of any kind, they will be fully supported. Does the Minister accept that regardless of what he has done until now, his pleas to the commercial sector have simply not worked? At a point when the TVSS is experiencing a serious shortfall, will the Minister clearly state his intention to put some muscle behind his statements? He will bring his own reputation into a certain amount of disrepute if he cannot ensure statements he makes elicit a positive response from the commercial sector.

One would naturally wish to appeal to the private sector to come forward in the first instance but I assure the Deputy I will exert some pressure on them to do so. However, I cannot force people to pay up. I agree with what the Deputy said about this area. Last year this group approached me and I increased our contribution to it from £10,000 to £15,000. That increased contribution will be made this year.

Lest the impression go out from this House that tourists are not safe here I will outline a few statistics to clarify the position. Ireland is still a safe tourist destination and rates very well by any international comparison. That was borne out in a survey carried out for Which magazine which shows that Ireland has the fourth lowest level of theft rate of the 44 countries surveyed and only 0.6 per cent of those who took part in the survey reported being victims of theft. The level of crime must be seen in the context of the growth of tourism. Official figures for 1996 show there was a total of 4,024 crimes against tourists, but that figure represents less than 0.1 per cent of total tourist numbers. That figure includes petty crime, theft from parked cars, etc., and there were only 43 cases of tourists who sustained personal injuries. Only 13 per cent of referrals to the TVSS were muggings and the largest category, more than 50 per cent, involved pick-pocketing. Unfortunately, 89 per cent of crime against tourists occurs in Dublin and much of it is drug related and part of the overall crime problem, while the rest of the country is relatively trouble free. I would not like the impression to go from this House that we need to allocate a good deal of money to aid this group, although more money needs to be allocated to it. This country is an exceptionally safe, crime free area as regards the tourism industry.

We should try to ensure this country is as crime free as possible, but there are still some victims in the area. As the Minister knows, there is a shortfall in the funding for this voluntary organisation which is doing extremely good work. The Minister said he would use his muscle and he is in a position to use it in regard to the commercial sector which is making a fortune out of tourism. Will he outline precisely what he intends to do to go that step beyond appealing to the better nature of the commercial sector? What muscle does he intend to use to ensure that the tourist victim support organisation can continue to provide an invaluable service and, sadly, one we will have to ensure is provided for the future, regardless of the level of crime rate in this area? I accept the crime level in this area is relatively low, but it is a serious matter for tourists. We should not disregard the personal hurt, damage and distress caused to people who are subject to criminal attack when visiting another country.

I do not want to compel anybody to do anything. These issues are being discussed with the private tourism sector. We may feel compelled to deal with some issues and that is how I am approaching this matter.

The victim support group was set up in 1994 and direct financial aid is not given to victims although benefit in kind is provided. We can be proud that the tourist victim support group exists and in Europe it is recognised that we look after our tourists. However, when there is a horrible mugging of a tourist, regardless of the part of the country in which it occurs, it tends to get reported in our newspapers. That is what we must face, although there are very few crimes in this area. The crime rate in this area is very low and we are working to improve the future funding of the TVSS.

I raised a number of the problems facing the tourism industry and Deputy McManus has raised another issue that needs to be dealt with. There seems to be a lack of coordination——

The Deputy may ask a brief question because we have spent a good deal of time on this question.

In the context of the issues I raised and the one raised by Deputy McManus, will the Minister convene a national forum on tourism to deal with these important issues that must be faced up to and on which decisions must be made sooner rather than later? We have a projected growth rate of 9 per cent which cannot be sustained unless we deal with these issues facing the industry.

I have no intention of setting up any further quangos.

I am not talking about establishing quangos but a consultative council.

According to the report I received from ITIC there are 22 organisations involved in tourism. We should try to get rid of some of them rather than set up more.

The Minister should not misrepresent what I said. I propose that a forum be held over two or three days at which these issues could be discussed.

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. The Chair is on its feet. I call Question No. 15.

I do not want the Minister to misrepresent my views. He should not be so smart.