Private Members' Business. - Foot and Mouth Disease: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Flanagan on Tuesday, 4 April 2001:
That Dáil Éireann, conscious of the restrictions and regulations imposed as a result of the current foot and mouth disease emergency, calls on the Government to establish a special task force to work in conjunction with an appropriate economic sub-committee of Cabinet, the role and function of which shall be to carry out an immediate economic impact assessment of the devastating effects to the economy and business as a consequence of foot and mouth disease with particular reference to the agri-food sector, food processing, transport and haulage, tourism, sporting and all outdoor pursuits, entertainment, leisure, bookmaking, hotel/restaurant, catering industry and many employment sectors throughout the economy where already hundreds of lay-offs have occurred and where thousands of job losses are threatened resulting in hardship and trauma for thousands of families and further calls on the Government to complete such an assessment without delay with a view towards introducing an appropriate range of measures and reliefs in the form of an aid package to mitigate the loss and damage involved.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann:" and substitute the following:
"–commends the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development for his handling of the current foot and mouth emergency including the establishment of a Government Task Force to monitor the crisis and the necessary control measures with a view to preventing the spread of the disease;
–notes the establishment of a Tourism Action Group involving Bord Fáilte, the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the tourism industry, which monitors the impact of foot and mouth on the sector; and
–notes the action being taken by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Minister for Public Enterprise, in ensuring that the impact of foot and mouth prevention measures on the other sectors of the economy, in particular tourism, is minimised;
and commends the public for their co-operation with the measures necessary."
–(Minister for Tourism, Sport and
Recreation)
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: I wish to share my time with Deputy M. Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the news today of the relaxation of some of the restrictions announced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development which I hope will help in the recovery of the economic losses incurred as a result of the foot and mouth crisis. In just over one week most Irish workers will be enjoying their first long break since Christmas. Many people living in Dublin city who take an Easter break will, probably, decide not to travel within the country because of the message from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development not to travel to rural areas. This message to those living in large urban areas is often interpreted to mean that they should not travel to Kerry or Galway. Many who travel to such areas for weekends or holidays do not go near farms and the message from the Department must be clarified immediately.

The impact of foot and mouth disease and the associated restrictions has created a huge sense of nervousness in the tourism industry which I witnessed for the first time when I travelled around south Kerry last Saturday. The figures show that bookings are significantly down and in many cases telephones are only ringing to cancel bookings. Unless drastic action is taken to support the industry, the rest of the summer will be a disaster.

Last night's comment by the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, that the foot and mouth controls were having "some adverse impact" is unbelievable. Obviously, his ear is not to the ground. The losses and cancellations are absolutely devastating. Initial figures from various sectors within the tourism industry suggest serious losses. By the end of March an independent analysis for the tourism industry, conducted by Dumor Marketing Ltd., suggested that £223 million had been lost. If the crisis continues, the reduction in the number of outside visitors could amount to losses of £470 million. Losses in tourism revenue mean job losses. While I fully accept that we have a challenge in ensuring foot and mouth disease does not spread further within the island, we also have a duty to protect our second biggest national industry. The time has come for action and clarity and consistency are required.

The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development should sit down and iron out the serious discrepancies in the information emanating about the foot and mouth restrictions. It is time we had a consistent message from all Departments about what can be done. As the restrictions continue to be relaxed, it is crucial that all relevant websites, advertisements and public information campaigns state the same thing as Ministers. There is no room for inconsistency.

Last week in the United Kingdom Tony Blair went all out to let the public at home and abroad know that Britain was open for business in terms of tourism. The Taoiseach has not yet made such an impassioned statement about our openness and welcome for tourists. I ask him to make a statement in support of the tourism industry.

Those representing the tourism industry have been very pragmatic to date in their representations to Government since the beginning of the foot and mouth crisis. They have shown huge understanding of the initial measures undertaken to prevent the spread of the disease. In recent days they have argued that they are not seeking compensation, but rather want to be supported in taking very practical steps to rebuild the industry. One of the most practical steps we can take is to target the British market, which is huge. I cannot understand the reason, since the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, Bord Fáilte has practically abandoned advertising in the British market from which bookings have fallen by a frightening 60%.

The US market has also been significantly damaged. Incorrect messages and distressing pictures from the United Kingdom of animals being burned in fields have had an impact on tourism here. Ambiguity about the effects of foot and mouth disease on human health must be ironed out. There is confusion, particularly in the United States, about the difference between BSE, foot and mouth disease and hoof and mouth disease, which must be clarified. I cannot understand the reason the Minister is waiting until the end of the month to travel to the United States. I urge him to travel tomorrow as those who want to book holidays need 28 days if they are to receive a refund on their airline tickets, etc.

There is also a need for a reassurance campaign here. People have rallied to the cause of agriculture. It is time to do the same for tourism. People's jobs are at risk. In tourism hot spots such as my home town of Killarney entire families are employed in tourism and facing months of uncertainty. It is crucial that workers who have had their jobs put at risk are also catered for and that their voice is heard. I suggest that representatives of workers should be included in the expert group. It may also be necessary to show some degree of leniency towards workers signing on as a result of foot and mouth disease.

When foot and mouth disease is firmly behind us, which I hope will be very soon, I suggest that we have an additional bank holiday on which we can hold our parades and stage a major festival to tell people that we are again on the road and welcome tourists.

I represent Galway West, a constituency where so many people depend on an income from tourism. Almost every letter I receive opens by stating support for the national effort to prevent foot and mouth disease, which is encouraging and impressive. We still need a national effort to deal with the position we face. It was not helpful, however, when the Minister for Finance recently dismissed the possibility of compensation or responding to the plight of those who find themselves in difficulties, but who are not directly involved in agriculture. I have in mind people such as those in the Oughterard Tourist and Development Association, which has written to me and other Deputies indicating that their tourism season, which begins in March, April and May, has taken a very heavy hit. There are those who have borrowed money from banks and are finding it difficult to meet their commitments. Not just owners of establishments catering for the tourism industry, but those who work in the industry have lost out. The tourism sector provides a very important type of rural employment, be it in small guesthouses or small hotels. The people concerned could be helped through a mixture of local and national initiatives, for example, in relation to rates, VAT and PRSI, and through a State assisted promotion.

I echo what Deputy Moynihan-Cronin said, namely, that the response in Ireland, a gesture of unique national solidarity, is in contrast to that on the neighbouring island where people saw one sector of the economy as almost being in competition with another. The fact that there has been such solidarity from those who may not be directly involved in agriculture is impressive, but also requires a generous and flexible response on the part of Government. Now that the details of hardship and significant loss of income and employment have been made clear, I urge the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation to make a case to the Minister for Finance to respond in a way which will encourage the continuance of this social cohesion and solidarity.

I wish to share time with Deputy Kirk.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue in the House. It provides me with an opportunity to acknowledge the support from all sides of the House, and what Deputy Higgins described as unique solidarity. I have not ever experienced anything like the national effort and support which ensured that this virus was contained and prevented from doing enormous damage to the national economy. It was to be expected that the farming community would play a central role in the fight against the disease.

However, the contribution made by sporting and cultural organisation, by the business community and the general public, the degree of disinfection, with hygiene arrangements at everything from pubs to funeral homes, was absolutely amazing. It was very important for our citizens to show this solidarity and support in the way they did. It extended from the farmer who scrupulously adhered to the hygiene regulations for the bio-security of his farm, and that is to be expected. It included the sporting organisations. The IRFU were the first to come to the Department and offered to postpone or cancel the Six Nations Championship. As it happened, Ireland had been doing quite well in that competition, having won its first two games. The FAI and the GAA followed suit, as did a whole range of cultural organisations, all supporting the national effort. Trade fairs and shows were cancelled and individuals postponed long-awaited holidays.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development received about 4,000 calls per day to the help line People rang to ask, for instance, if it was safe for a letter to be sent from Britain, in case the virus could be carried on stationery. It was a superb reaction from the public. Unusual details were noted, such as sheep crossing over roads, for instance.

The public reaction to the crisis is symptomatic of the fact that Ireland is only relatively recently an urbanised society and that many urban dwellers are only one generation removed from the land. To this extent, the people have an innate sense of connection to the land and it has not yet been entirely eroded. There has been a tremendous response also from those who have no connection whatsoever with farming or with rural Ireland.

So many aspects of the economy were affected. I met a photographer in Dublin a few days after the crisis began. He told me he was out of business because so many events connected with farming and animals had been cancelled. Printers lost business when events programmes were not needed. Everyone took the hurt and the pain in the hope that it would help prevent this plague from descending upon us—

Did the Minister employ the photographer?

I think Jim is more photogenic than I am—

A Deputy

Television is your job.

It is all the more important then that those who have made the sacrifice in the national interest should know what they are fighting for. The Taoiseach referred to this when he said this is a once in a generation crisis. His words had a resonance to which people all over the country responded. By comparison, in the United Kingdom, primary agriculture represents just 0.8% of gross domestic product, 2% of employment and 4.6% of exports. In Ireland, primary agriculture is far more important to our economy as it represents 3.5% of gross domestic product, 7.3% of employment, and 5.6% of exports. These figures represent primary agriculture only. The food, drinks and tobacco sector is also a major contributor to national wealth and employment. Output from the sector currently stands at around £11 billion per annum, representing almost 25% of all industrial output. It provides direct employment for almost 50,000 people, with primary agriculture accounting for 10.5% of total employment. The industry provides indirect employment for 280,000 people, and food and drink exports in 2000 were valued at £5.4 billion.

These impressive figures do not tell the whole story. In terms of gross output, the industry accounts for almost 50% of indigenous manufacturing industry and because it uses mainly native raw material, it is a significant contributor to our balance of payments. It accounts for 27% of net foreign earnings due to its strong internal links to the Irish economy and low import content. Due largely to its geographical spread, the industry makes a particular and substantial contribution to rural communities.

The industry comprises more than 700 companies, and the main components of the industry are beef, dairy products and other meats. A significant development in recent years has been the growth of the prepared consumer foods sector. Despite the difficulties experienced in marketing for some sectors, the overall performance of the industry in recent years has been quite satisfactory. Since 1993, exports have increased by £2.2 billion. This is in no small measure due to the establishment of Bord Bia in 1994. It is clear that any restrictions arising from the spread of foot and mouth disease would have a very serious impact on this sector, and therefore, on the whole economy. The spread of the disease would have a knock-on effect on many other sectors, notably the tourism sector. I am also acutely aware that the control measures now in place are causing considerable difficulties in this sector. This is a matter of serious concern to the Government and we are aware of the economic importance of the tourism sector which brings in more than £3 billion annually in foreign exchange earnings, and represents more than 4% of GNP.

Minister, the eight minutes I gave you is to be shared between you and Deputy Kirk.

The House will be aware that in the period up to 22 March, there had not been a new outbreak in Northern Ireland since the Meigh case, nor had there been any case in the Republic. Then on 22 March, came confirmation of an outbreak here. We have had all the trauma since then, with the culling of animals and various restrictions. I thank the Garda Siochána, the army, various Government Departments and State agencies, and the Civil Defence. Various voluntary organisations have also been outstanding. They have all been working round the clock.

In more recent times, the expert group chaired by Professor Michael Monaghan, has been meeting with various organisations. I am pleased that we can allow some restrictions to be eased so that normal business can proceed. We are not yet out of the woods. The British situation is extremely serious, as is the situation in the Netherlands. We must get through another fortnight and I appeal to everybody not to let down the guard, not to become complacent. Disinfectant mats should be replenished and any untoward activity should be reported to the Department.

I congratulate the Minister on the fine efforts of his Department, his staff, the army personnel, the Garda Siochána, the farm releases services, and the voluntary people who were involved in significant efforts to keep the plague of foot and mouth at bay. In the mid-1960s we were threatened with the arrival of foot and mouth disease and the Department and various State succeeded in repelling it. Times have changed quite significantly in the intervening period. Agriculture and farming is quite different today from the mid-1960s given the greater concentration of land, of livestock on farms and the general intensification of the industry. Obviously, the control measures call for a much greater intensity in 2001 than in the mid-1960s. Nonetheless, it is important that we recognise the role of Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development staff, gardaí, theColour RGB 170,0,0 Army and all involved who made a fine effort in combating the spread of the disease.

That is the background. We are now looking at the impact on the agricultural industry, particularly in the Cooley Peninsula but also in County Louth in general. With the outbreak of foot and mouth in south Armagh, and the proximity of the Cooley Peninsula and its sheep population, it was quite clear we were in a vulnerable position. There was a significant population of sheep in north Louth, and in Cooley in particular, in an area contiguous to the mountains immediately north of the Border.

The number of outbreaks in Britain helps us realise the serious implications of foot and mouth but we already have serious implications here such as the cull, the empathy of families with their livestock, the financial implications, and the loss of fine quality livestock through the cull. It will take time to build that quality back up again. Small and medium size farmers, some operating at part-time capacity, have been traumatised by what has happened and it is conceivable that many of those farmers may find it difficult to re-commence their enterprises again.

One of the striking features of the various briefing sessions organised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development was the significant number of young farmers involved. That is encouraging and they will hopefully overcome the trauma and setback and strengthen their resolve to restock and recommence in business. The sheep sector is clearly a significant one in the local economy and complements inadequate off-farm income.

The related sector of tourism has been severely affected. In our general analysis of the impact on the agricultural industry we need to keep an eye on the tourism industry, a relatively recent development. There has been significant capital investment in many tourism enterprises in the Cooley area and in Louth generally. These could be financially devastated if there were to be a continuation of the control measures for a long period. Hopefully, the support that we all hope will be advanced to them will help them get over this difficult period.

I also find that transport companies, of which there are many in County Louth, are adversely affected with trucks parked in yards and drivers laid off. They are suffering financially and this is related to the tapering off of agricultural business. The inter-departmental group that is looking at the issues will hopefully identify areas where support can be extended and I look forward to that.

I thank Members for the opportunity to speak. The outbreak in Ireland of foot and mouth disease has the potential to cause enormous damage to social, economic and cultural life. I do not underestimate the crisis which faces us all. I am fully aware of the severe difficulties which face the people of County Louth who have already put up with major difficulties. Great credit is due to all those involved in fighting to restrict the disease and to overcome its impact 24 hours per day in my constituency. I congratulate all on their spirit of solidarity with the rest of the country, despite huge tribulations. I am fully aware of the risk that the disease might yet spread and of the need for very tight controls.

I do not overstate the Government's achievements in restricting the outbreak so far but we do not have to look far afield to see how much worse this outbreak might be or might yet become. I would like to take this opportunity to praise all those involved in this life-and-death struggle. In particular, great praise is due to all the officials of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development who have been in County Louth for many weeks, to Louth County Council, to officials in the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, the officials of the North Eastern Health Board, and all those involved in supporting tourism, and to all other public agencies involved.

Above all, I would like to praise the people of Louth who have suffered, and are suffering, greatly from this outbreak, are doing everything possible to contain it and to get the county back on its feet as soon as possible. My heart goes out to the farming community in the north Louth area who have had to endure great trauma over the recent weeks.

As Deputies will be aware,Colour RGB 170,0,0 I established a task-force bringing together all the relevant agencies to identify the key issues which have arisen in Louth, including the provision of information, of training, of supports for those laid off from employment and the necessary financial alleviation measures to respond to the difficulties experienced by business in the area. In meetings with business and tourism interests, compensation for lost business has not been mentioned.

However, we must ensure that there is appropriate flexibility in the collection of rates and taxes and I call on the financial institutions to be as sympathetic and flexible as possible in relation to business customers currently experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak. I commend representatives of the Bank of Ireland who at a public meeting, attended by my colleague Deputy McDaid and I, said that there would be a level of forbearance on a case by case basis.

I understand, and the Taoiseach was involved in this prior to his visit to County Louth last Friday, that the Revenue Commissioners, as part of normal arrangements, would be prepared to look sympathetically at payment arrangements on a case by case basis where temporary cash flow problems have emerged as a result of the present crisis. I have no doubt that local authorities, from my initial discussions with them, will adopt a similar sympathetic approach.

Counselling has emerged as one of the particular needs of the area given the traumatic situation which has arisen for many in the farming community. Having travelled in the Cooley Peninsula over the past two weeks, it is astounding that at the start the area was full of sheep and new lambs while today there are virtually no animals. The issue of counselling and assistance is imperative. I have prioritised funding for counselling services in County Louth and I have strongly urged voluntary groups who are in a position to assist farm families in the provision of counselling to contact the family affairs unit of my Department. Already a number have come forward to help on this. Additional funding will be made available to groups in the area.

The Taoiseach and my colleagues, Deputies Walsh and McDaid, have already visited the area to see at first hand the situation on the ground. I thank them for this important mark of solidarity with the people of County Louth and those visits were greatly appreciated by the people. Deputy McDaid has already referred in detail to what has been done to support the tourism industry in the area and has outlined the tourism marketing initiative he is putting in place. I thank him for his commitment that when the restrictions are lifted in County Louth a tourism marketing drive, specifically targeted at the area, will begin. I am very much aware of the difficulties being experienced by the people of Louth in getting people and services to come to County Louth. This difficulty has manifested itself in recent days. There appears to be a reluctance on the part of people in other parts of the country to deliver services to the county. While we must ensure that foot and mouth does not spread, life must go on. People should adopt a realistic approach to what can and cannot be done.

The Government has already established an expert group under the chairmanship of Professor Monaghan in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. I encourage people, particularly in County Louth, if they are staging events, to contact Professor Monaghan's committee and to follow its advice.

The Government is extremely conscious of the severe impact of foot and mouth disease in the Cooley area. We will soon finalise an initiative to help disadvantaged areas in rural Ireland. This will involve targeted investments and detailed planning for the development of services and infrastructure. The Cabinet sub-committee on social inclusion which deals with rural development met recently and has already agreed that Cooley will be included in this initiative on the basis that it has suffered dramatically in recent weeks.

The impact of foot and mouth disease is not confined to County Louth. My Department has responded speedily to additional claims for unemployment benefit, unemployment assistance and farm assist throughout the country. To date, there have been 733 additional claims for unemployment payments and farm assist directly arising from the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, including 88 from County Louth itself.

Immediately after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, guidelines were issued to my Department officials to ensure that an appropriate response was available to people claiming in these circumstances. Signing on at social welfare local offices, branch offices or Garda stations was immediately relaxed as appropriate in order to ensure that it did not contribute to the spread of foot and mouth disease. In Louth a special unit was set up in Riverstown Mill in the Cooley area to deal with social welfare and other issues. Procedures have been put in place to ensure that claims can be dealt with in the safest and fastest way possible.

Workers who were laid off as a result of foot and mouth disease may qualify for unemployment benefit or assistance, subject to the usual conditions for receipt of those payments. The deciding officers have been advised to have regard to the nature of lay-offs arising from foot and mouth disease and to the fact that the persons concerned may not have had a chance to consider other employment opportunities. In the circumstances it is expected that persons signing on as a result of the foot and mouth disease scare would qualify for an unemployment payment subject to satisfying the relevant contribution conditions or means test.

It is open to any farmer adversely affected either by foot and mouth disease or the precautions to avail of the supports under the farm assist scheme. In the Louth area a mail shot was issued to several hundred farmers advising them of their entitlements. Special arrangements have been introduced to cater for the assessment of means for different categories of farmers, as appropriate. In the case of farmers whose stock has been slaughtered, any compensation received will not be assessed as income or capital. Those farmers will be assessed with nil means from farming in that regard. In the case of farmers who cannot trade because their farms are locked up, they will be assessed with nil means and will have their position reviewed in six months. In the case of farmers who can only trade by permit, their means will be assessed on a current basis. That is allowing for any downturn in prices. The compensation, which is to be used for restocking purposes, will be disregarded. Agreement has been reached with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to fast track the investigation process of farm assist claims by way of seeking necessary information on farm incomes over the telephone from district veterinary offices.

No Government could have ensured a speedier or more effective response than that which we have achieved both nationally and locally and this is universally recognised. I have already accepted a number of constructive suggestions from members of the Opposition to whom I have spoken privately during the past week or so. I compliment my fellow Oireachtas Members on the opposition benches in my constituency on their constructive efforts in the situation.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to inform the House of the role my Department is playing in dealing with the threat posed by foot and mouth disease and with the serious issues associated with this crisis. My Department has been actively involved in a series of measures which I do not have time to outline. However, a review is ongoing in my Department to ensure that we deal with this continuing threat while being ever mindful of the effect measures are implementing in certain areas.

The forestry situation is being reviewed in the light of current circumstances. Limited site inspections resumed this week on the basis of the code of practice agreed between my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. However, essential inspections by forestry inspectors and other inspection staff of my Department are curtailed. This will give rise to additional pressures when restrictions are lifted but Deputies can be assured that every effort will be made to restore normality as soon as possible.

Preventing entry of the disease from the United Kingdom continues to be a primary concern. In the case of commercial sea ports all port companies and harbour authorities have put in place appropriate disinfection notification procedures and preventative measures in accordance with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. My officials are also in ongoing direct communication with sea ports and relevant shipping companies to assist the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in monitoring the situation both in our own ports and in the relevant sea ports in the United Kingdom and France. The Department is also in regular contact with UK Departments with a view to ensuring that steps are taken to disinfect persons and vehicles leaving the UK for Ireland.

Precautionary measures were also put in place at the five fishery harbour centres managed by my Department. Notices about the disease were erected in all the harbours requiring any vessel arriving from outside the State to inform the harbour master and carry out the necessary procedures. Contact was also made with the coastal local authorities advising them to put in place stringent precautionary measures at harbours and landing places under their control. My Department, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Customs and Excise, is developing a long-term plan to ensure that adequate arrangements are in place to deal with all the potential entry points at small piers, landing places and mooring buoys where yachts and other small leisure craft may enter during the touring and sailing season.

In the case of angling, I made a by-law prohibiting angling nation wide with effect from 3 March. While this measure was fully in accordance with the overall precautionary approach adopted by the Government I was nevertheless aware that this restriction placed a considerable burden on the angling sector which is particularly vulnerable due to the niche nature of many enterprises. At the earliest opportunity, therefore, my Department sought the advice of the expert group and on 16 March I lifted the legal prohibition on angling with effect from 23 March. My Department has issued guidelines applicable to all involved in the angling sector from 23 March. Angling activity was permitted to resume from 23 March subject to non-entry on to agricultural land to which animals susceptible to the disease may have had access since 1 February. This easing of the restriction allows for the resumption of ordinary angling activity in many cases, in particular lake and sea angling.

Angling is now being promoted in this country and overseas in accordance with the overall guidelines of the expert group. This will lessen the burden being borne by this sector while ensuring that appropriate precautions are in place. For example disinfection facilities have been provided at exit points to fisheries wherever practicable and fishery boards are liaising with fishery owners and operators to identify safe access points to fisheries. In addition I am putting further proposals to the expert group to ensure the proper disinfection of all angling equipment being brought into the country. This may further ease the burden on the angling community.

I consider these measures do all that is possible in the present circumstances to see that the impact of the foot and mouth disease prevention measures on angling is minimised. I will keep matters under active review as the situation develops and work closely with the relevant public bodies and interest groups to secure the position of the angling sector for the future.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Gerry Reynolds, Kenny, Olivia Mitchell, Ring, Deenihan, Hayes, Sheehan and Finucane.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I sympathise with the people of the Cooley Peninsula who have had to endure the effects of the virus at first hand and also with the countries in which there have been cases of foot and mouth disease, especially the United Kingdom where the farming community, as in the Cooley Peninsula, have suffered severe economic loss and stress.

I compliment my colleagues, Deputies Flanagan and Perry, on tabling the motion, the importance of which is clear given that half the Cabinet are present for the debate. I look forward to positive announcements on some of the suggestions made in the motion which calls on the Government to establish an economic sub-committee to deal with the current situation. I do not have to emphasise the need for such a committee given that the Minister has received deputations from the tourism industry, including hoteliers and guesthouse owners, all of whom have taken a hit. The Minister said on "Questions and Answers" that he had a package ready.

I welcome the fact that some restrictions have been lifted. We have to emphasise, however, the importance of restrictions at ports and along the Border. I compliment the Garda Síochána, the Army and all departmental officials who have put in many long hours in an effort to police our ports and the Border. If animals are not brought into the country, there is every chance that our efforts will succeed. History tells us how the disease came to the island. A repeat would be a disaster.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister on the easing of fishing restrictions. People in my area, especially around Lanesborough, had bookings for fishing holidays. Thankfully, the business has been restored. That people can fish off piers and boats is a sensible approach. They must, however, avoid crossing land. The Minister has made it clear that it is okay to fish.

Those involved in the transport business and the entertainment world are also affected by restrictions. That horse-racing is to resume in about two weeks' time is welcome news for Autotote in Ballymahon which has a contract with the Irish Racing Authority. The motion is all the more important given the various activities right across the board which have been affected.

Until now the Government has concentrated on keeping out the disease. Now is the time to move forward, put a committee in place and have its package ready with a view to moving forward immediately. I look forward to hearing from the Government.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion which calls on the Government to establish a special task force to make an immediate economic impact assessment of the devastating effects on the economy and business due to foot and mouth disease. I compliment my colleagues, Deputies Flanagan and Jim Higgins, on tabling the motion. The Government will have to take effective measures to help the business community and the many industries which are finding it difficult to survive. Given that the tourism and food sectors have experienced difficulty, measures are needed to help them.

The Government stated on many occasions that the real economic benefit to the west and rural Ireland, in general, is the promotion of the tourism industry which we view as having a significant role in the development of the west and rural Ireland. It is time that the Government stopped talking the talk and started walking the walk, because action is needed. It is easy for us to say what should be done, but when one is in government one has the opportunity to implement the necessary measures which the sectors in question require immediately.

I suggest that the Government look at issues such as the possibility of local authorities reducing commercial rates and ask the Department of the Environment and Local Government to provide financial help for local authorities to meet any reduction in funding and that the Revenue Commissioners allow businesses extra time for the payment of VAT. These are matters in which the Departments of Finance and the Environment and Local Government can become involved and measures which the Government sub-committee on foot and mouth disease should implement it as a matter of urgency. There is also a view that the Government should do a deal with the commercial banks, which are owed by businesses, on the deferral of interest payments, a matter the Government should take up as a matter of urgency.

A number of individuals in my constituency have contacted me. The boat hire business which has had to endure numerous cancellations is experiencing difficulty. Locoboat in Ballinamore, Emerald Star, Carrick Craft, and Riversdale Barges have lost all bookings for the Easter period due to the foot and mouth scare. This will have to be taken into consideration. The Depart ment of Social, Community and Family Affairs has a major role to play and should be more proactive in making information available to those who have lost jobs in the short-term in livestock marts, the service industry and the tourism sector. I call on the Government to implement immediately some of the proposed measures to ease the burden on individuals who find themselves in difficult circumstances.

The motion is timely and important. What has happened here is unprecedented in terms of its consequences, economic effects and the way in which a Government has had to cope and deal with it. As the Minister, Deputy McDaid, is aware, the tourism industry is strong, but it is also fragile. A consequence of foot and mouth disease is a damage limitation exercise and an attempt to salvage something for the remainder of the year. While it is fine for the Minister to say that we have to do this on the basis of ingenuity and patriotism, the stability of the industry depends on dollars, deutschmarks, francs, lira and pounds sterling. People in these countries who have decided to go elsewhere are unlikely to change their minds. We have to try to convince those who are undecided that they should come to Ireland.

I wish to give the Minister an idea. The Genealogical Society of Ireland contacted me by e-mail. The society sent a ten-point bulletin to 1,600 contacts worldwide giving simple facts about foot and mouth disease to those who may fear contracting it. The bulletin explains why people should come to Ireland and outlines the fact that the country is open for tourism business.

The Minister could contact chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs and Lions clubs, all of which are members of worldwide networks and which could send e-mails to their contacts across the world, particularly to those markets which are most important to Ireland. The Minister should ally this approach to his personal international onslaught. I expect to see him on CNN, ABC, CBS, BBC, TV5 and so on outlining why people should come to Ireland.

The Minister should also enlist the help of Eddie Jordan, one of our tourism ambassadors, and Irish golfers taking part in the US Masters at Augusta this weekend, an event which will have a worldwide television audience. He should ask these sportspeople to outline that people should have no fears about coming to Ireland. This is a damage limitation exercise and the Minister must ally his efforts to the marketing efforts of those in the tourism industry. That industry has inherent problems which the Minister will have to deal with at a later stage but for now the exercise is one of damage limitation and attempting to salvage something from the current situation. I wish the Minister well in his endeavours and I hope he takes my suggestion on board.

Ms O. Mitchell: In the time available I cannot go into specifics but this is the most critical juncture for our economy. Government action at this point will determine whether the Celtic tiger is still roaring when this crisis is over, even if it does so in a more muted manner.

We all knew that the levels of growth experienced over the past six or seven years could not continue. We were also assured that the economic fundamentals were right and that the change would not result in a sharp decline in growth rates and a recession but that the levelling off would lead to comfortable, sustainable growth rates. We were further assured that this would be the case provided there was no unforeseen international catastrophe over which we had no control. However, this is what has occurred. No one predicted that foot and mouth disease would cause the Celtic tiger to falter.

The agriculture and tourism sectors have taken the direct hit, as have sectors related to these industries through the supply chain or linkages. However, the knock-on effects will be such that every sector will suffer and every person in the country will experience some pain. The steps taken by the Government at this stage and how it responds to and handles this crisis have implications for everyone.

There are two priorities now facing the Government. First, it must restore confidence in the economy. Confidence is what is most under threat and any loss of confidence will have long-term implications when foot and mouth disease is but a memory. Other factors affect confidence in the economy. However, the manner in which confidence has ebbed in every sector since the first announcement regarding foot and mouth disease has been phenomenal. The Government's prime objective must be to restore confidence.

The only way to restore this confidence is for the Government to show that it has a handle on this problem, that it has a plan of action and that it intends to show leadership in restoring confidence. This requires more than the placing of a ring of steel around County Louth. As outlined in the motion, it primarily requires identifying the sectors, industries and individual businesses which are suffering the most so a targeted package of measures can rapidly be put in place. This is not a request for a kind of setaside for every business. However, it seeks to ensure that, when the crisis is over, the infrastructure of every sector will still exist and that product providers will survive to employ those being laid off. This objective may require direct or indirect financial support. However, it mostly requires reassuring business that it is worthwhile trying to trade through this crisis, that there is a future and that the Celtic tiger will stagger back to its feet. The Government must recognise that there is a crisis. It must have a plan to deal with the crisis and the determination to implement that plan.

I compliment Deputies Belton, Flanagan, Perry and Jim Higgins for tabling this timely and well thought out motion which had to be raised in the House. I congratulate the whole country. This is the first time since the national emergency that the entire country pulled together. We had lost the meaning of Ireland because people had become selfish. However, on this occasion people put the country first, for which they must be complimented.

People are paying a high price for this situation. Two years ago as junior spokesperson on agriculture, I tabled questions to the then Ministers for Agriculture and Food and Finance regarding the smuggling of sheep into the country. Two days later I received an apology from the Minister. The only newspaper which covered this story at the time was theIrish Farmers Journal which I compliment. The journal took this issue up again last week. However, two years after I raised this issue we have done nothing about those smuggling sheep who have created the greatest disaster to hit the country.

There are 11 hotels in Westport and thousands of people in the area are involved in tourism. I spoke to Lord Altamont last week who stated that he has to pay insurance premiums of £75,000 for the next few months regardless of whether one person or 35,000 people visit Westport House. He employs 18 people and further staff are taken on for the summer months.

The 11 hotels in Westport have lost business. St. Patrick's weekend this year was the quietest ever in the town. Thousands of visitors normally come to the town. From next week on one could normally walk through the town and not know whether one was in New York, Amsterdam or Chicago because of the number of visitors. I walked through Westport last Saturday and one would know one was in a town in the west because the streets were so quiet.

The Government must take on the county and urban councils and outline that the current situation has to be taken into consideration next December when rates are due. Hotels which only open for six months should not have to pay rates this year. The Minister should place an embargo on rates and give businesses a chance to survive. Many of these businesses depend on the summer trade and will be affected.

Conflicting messages are emanating from different Departments regarding the opening of tourism sites and monuments. This matter should be clarified by the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. This is no fault of the Minister or the Department but various operators have outlined that the situation needs to be clarified.

Each tourism county should establish its own task force to communicate messages to various tourism interests. Such a task force was established in Kerry today which can communicate guidelines and directives from Departments to local operators. This mechanism will be very important.

The Minister referred to the negative messages which the national media has sent to the UK and, in particular, the US. I will give the House one example. The chief executive of the Rose of Tralee Festival was contacted last week by a number of people in America who said they were not coming to Ireland because they feared the consequences of foot and mouth disease and its health implications. Through Bord Fáilte, the Department will have to embark on a major blitz of the American market to provide the correct information and to outline that neither Ireland nor the Ring of Kerry are closed. The Minister will have to implement a huge media blitz on our major markets to ensure this misinformation, much of it put out by our own media is cleared up. I am not media-bashing – this is what happened.

There is a feeling in the industry, especially among the smaller operators, that they are being isolated. I received an e-mail from an operator who organises walking holidays last week and I had a similar one this evening. She said:

Dear Jimmy, I can't hold my silence anymore. I just want to know what is being done or can be done to help the likes of ourselves during this foot and mouth crisis. We have already refunded all clients due to come on holidays with us in March and April. We have to swallow the administrative charges of booking and then cancelling all of these holidays. We are now looking at May clients and wondering if we will have to cancel all of these as well. In order to keep goodwill with our clients, we must give full refunds so we are losing money hand over fist. In order to keep goodwill with farmers–

Acting Chairman

Deputy Deenihan, I am afraid your time is up.

She went on to state: "This is crippling us. What can be done?" They are looking for a bit of advice.

Mr. Hayes

I am glad of the opportunity to briefly contribute to this debate. The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Ahern, has contributed and we and other colleagues will have an opportunity tomorrow morning to debate this in greater detail at a specially convened meeting of the social affairs committee.

As other colleagues have said, this disease will have huge effect not only on the tourism sector, but on the transport sector, the meat processing sector and many other sectors of the economy. We have to be fully aware of those effects and specifically aware that many people will find themselves in a vulnerable position over the coming weeks in trying to understand, or be aware, of their social welfare entitlements. It is alarming to hear from the Minister, Deputy Ahern, that already this week, in excess of 700 people have signed on for specific help from social welfare offices throughout the country. That is a threefold increase on the figures presented to the House only two weeks ago when the figure was 262. As the number of cases of this terrible disease rise in the United Kingdom so too does the number seeking social welfare help and assistance in this country. It was only on 12 March that the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs asked local offices to track them.

I have two specific recommendations. I call on the Government to drop the criteria whereby applicants for unemployment assistance must be "genuinely looking for work". That needs to be dropped quickly. It is unacceptable that people in exposed parts of the economy should have to immediately find work. It is equally unacceptable that it is taking between two to three weeks for applications for unemployment assistance, which, I understand, is the majority of cases, to be processed. During that period, people must go to the community welfare officer from whom they attempt to receive paltry sums of money. We are talking about families who will be living on £80 per week for the next few months as a result of this crisis and no consideration has been given to that.

I call for a tax rebate for many of those people in the affected parts of the economy – those who are unable to get unemployment benefit or assistance, those who will not get any benefits as a result of this crisis and those who are not included in the 700 figure.

In the first two weeks of the foot and mouth disease restrictions, the industry has suffered a loss of more than £33 million in cancellations and forward bookings since 1 March are down by at least £12 million compared to the same period last year. Already, 1,350 full-time jobs have been lost. If the current rate of forward booking does not improve, this will result in 150 jobs per week being added to the total. If the present circumstances continue, at least 20,000 jobs are at risk in the hotel and guest house sector alone which employs 60,000.

I call on the Minister to implement a number of immediate measures to ease the hardship being experienced by the hotel and guest house industry and its staff. These include: establishing a special fund of £15 million to £20 million to promote Ireland abroad; removing VAT on accommodation and food sales from March to June 2001 and introducing an interest subvention of low interest loan schemes for hotels and guest houses. An exemption from local authority rates for affected business has also been requested by the tourism industry.

This is the most serious crisis faced by the industry in the past 25 years and it affects most especially the small family run properties which represent 70% of all hotels and guest houses in the country. The crisis has proven that the hotel and guest house industry is the first sector of the economy to take a direct hit and suffer from the foot and mouth disease outbreak. In excess of 3,000 events, meetings and conferences have been cancelled. Other sectors may be able to defer their economic activities but a night in a hotel room could be termed a perishable commodity. Last night's empty hotel room cannot be sold afterwards even at a massively reduced price.

A fund of £15 million to £20 million should be allocated to promote Ireland as a country with only an isolated outbreak of foot and mouth disease where numerous activities and attractions are available to enjoy. Ireland can be portrayed as a country whose food is safe and wholesome and free from any human disease risks. The message abroad should suggest that preventative measures are not causing inconvenience but are necessary to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. Hotels and guest houses should be entitled to a full rebate of the local authority rates for 2001. They employ more than 60,000 people and, as a sector within tourism, they directly contribute more than £1.2 billion – 2% of the gross national product. Economists estimate that every £1 million of hotel revenue provides 27 direct jobs in hotels with further indirect jobs in the economy. I call on the Minister to take action. Pious words butters no bread. What is needed is action and action speaks louder than words.

Everybody has spoken about the great degree of solidarity around the country and I heard the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development speak of how people had co-operated. Are we reciprocating that solidarity at Government level? Is the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development aware that in Cavan, applicants for the control of farmyard pollution grant are waiting for £1.670 million in funding? The Department of Finance is not providing funding and whatever funding is being provided is being provided on a drip feed basis. Will the Minister talk to the Minister for Finance as a matter of priority and provide funding for many of those farmers who have approached me, who are hard pressed at the moment and who are finding things extremely difficult? Will he talk to the ESB transmission team in regard to a relaxation of the criteria that applies? People, including many young people, paid a connection fee of up to £1,000 six months ago and yet they cannot get a connection. Surely it is possible to come up with measures to eradicate that type of situation.

We have heard a great deal about the tourism industry. I have watched the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation on television debate what should or should not be done. Is it not time we had some tangible evidence of ways we could help the hard pressed industry? We are all receiving letters from hotels and from people in our constituencies saying how hard pressed they are. I remember a time when our economy was not so buoyant and there was a scheme called the employee incentive scheme which encouraged employers to take on people. The employer was paid an incentive. To retain vital jobs in the hard pressed tourism industry, the Minister should consider an employee retention scheme. A degree of imagination is required. Consultation with local authorities is necessary given that many of us are members of local authorities. Deputy Sheehan is correct that VAT refunds should be provided. We are not doing enough to those affected to help them out. We are congratulating them but we are forgetting about reciprocating their efforts.

I join in the congratulations expressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, and his officials for their dedicated efforts at containing the outbreak of foot and mouth disease to a single area in Ireland. Every Member recognises the hardship borne by people throughout the country, but particularly in the north Louth area. We must also recognise, however, that a widespread outbreak of the disease could threaten the economic well-being of the entire country and adversely affect virtually every citizen. There is general agreement for that reason that we must continue to be vigilant and to take every step to ensure the disease does not spread beyond the area in which it has been confined to date.

On 28 February, I announced that, as a precautionary measure against the threat of foot and mouth disease, all visitor facilities at national parks, nature reserves, national monuments and historic properties, owned or operated by Dúchas, the heritage service of my Department, would be closed to the public until further notice, both in rural and urban areas where there are live animals. A total of 24 different locations throughout Ireland were involved. In Dublin, Kilmainham Gaol, the Casino, Marino, the National Botanic Gardens, St. Stephen's Green and the Phoenix Park remained open, as did the national cultural institutions under the aegis of my Department such as the National Museum, the National Gallery and the National Library.

However, notices were posted at all heritage sites owned or operated by my Department requesting visitors not to enter these sites to minimise the risks associated with this disease. In addition, I suspended all unessential farm visits or holding of public meetings by Dúchas and other departmental staff for the duration of the crisis. This included visits by inspectors in Gaeltacht areas. I also announced that close liaison would be maintained with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and that the situation would be kept under review.

The full co-operation of the public was requested and generally received in the implementation of those necessary precautionary measures. While I was conscious that closure of heritage sites could have adverse effects for the tourism industry, I had to balance that with the national need to do everything possible to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease and with my own responsibilities as Minister in relation to the protection of wildlife.

I was pleased, however, that on 16 March, following acceptance by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development of recommendations by the expert group on foot and mouth disease controls, I was able to announce the re-opening of visitor facilities in Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny city and the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary. At that time, I requested my Department to undertake an immediate and full review of the position regarding visitor facilities at other heritage sites in the light of the recommendations of the expert group. On completion of the review and following consultation with the expert group in regard to the opening to visitors of certain specific sites under the aegis of my Department, I announced that a further 11 sites would re-open from 28 March.

The expert group considered that, as there were no susceptible animals using these sites and susceptible animals did not have access to them since 1 February 2001, the opening of the sites did not pose a risk in terms of foot and mouth disease. However, visitors are required to comply fully with all precautions at these sites. In particular, people must use the disinfection facilities which are in place and they may not go outside the sites on to farmland. Persons from infected areas or visitors who are high risk, having been in contact with susceptible animals, should not visit these sites.

The question of opening other sites operated by Dúchas has been kept under constant review with the expert group and as a result I decided to open a further three heritage sites with effect from 1 April and two with effect from 8 April. I will continue to keep the question of opening further heritage sites under close review, having regard to the advice of the expert group and keeping in mind at all times the paramount importance of preventing the spread of foot and mouth disease. I expect to announce in the next few days the opening of further heritage sites in time for Easter.

However, a number of sites managed by my Department contain susceptible animals, in particular, the deer herds in Killarney National Park, Wicklow Mountains National Park and Glenveagh National Park. These are major national assets and it is my duty, as Minister, to protect them. These sites must remain closed for the time being in accordance with the advice of the expert group. My Department is engaged in a programme of temporary fencing to fence out deer and other susceptible animals from the visitor centres in these areas. We are doing everything to reopen these sites on foot of the expert group's advice.

I thank the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and everyone in the House for their tremendous co-operation. The Minister and the President will visit the United States later this month and will take the opportunity to invite our friends in the US to visit Ireland and enjoy the tourist facilities that are available following the taking of the necessary precautions.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Stanton, Creed, McCormack and Flanagan.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I call on people who have information on sheep smuggling or political corruption to come forward. Regrettably an article was published in a Sunday newspaper under the heading "Beware they are trying to turn us into a nation of snitches". The article did not strictly relate to the foot and mouth disease but it is important that those who have been involved in wrongdoing are brought to justice. It is regrettable that there is a hangover from our colonial past in that people are afraid to approach the authorities with information.

I do not want to criticise the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development but I cannot join in the back slapping because there were no contingency plans in place when the foot and mouth outbreak hit Ireland. It was a miracle that the disease did not spread throughout the country. There were many shortcomings at the beginning of the outbreak. The shop closed down then but contingency plans are needed for crises such as a foot and mouth outbreak or nuclear fall-out from Sellafield. Local authorities have emergency plans but they contain telephone numbers which are not even correct.

There has been a negative impact on the economy and people have suffered directly and indirectly. The Minister referred to the national park at Glenadalough, which is probably the hub of tourism in County Wicklow. When I visited there in January the Glendalough Hotel, the Wicklow Heather and the Laragh Inn were full, but they are empty now and it is like a morgue in the village. Facilities should not be re-openeden masse, at least until 19 April, but the visitor centre at Glendalough could be opened in the next few weeks and I hope the Minister will examine that.

That is being examined.

The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation referred to people holidaying at home and doing what they can for local businesses. It is pay-back time. Reference is made to national spirit. The Government and the House should send a signal to the public. The foot and mouth crisis has had little impact on some people's lives but they still made sacrifices and we should examine the notion of providing a number of additional national holidays during the summer, as proposed by Deputy Flanagan. There are no national holidays in July or September and an extra bank holiday could be provided in both months. It would not cost much and would be a positive signal to the people. The proposals would be welcomed throughout society. The Government should take it on board as it would be a sign of appreciation to the population at large.

The motion calls for the establishment of a task force to carry out an economic impact assessment of the foot and mouth disease outbreak. ITIC has said to date that £223 million has been lost in revenue to the tourism sector. If the situation continues, up to £470 million will be lost by August and it could be worse unless there is support for the domestic market. I am sorry for the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation because the tourism industry is in serious trouble and he is not getting the support from his Cabinet colleagues that I would expect.

The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Treacy, last night told us all to be happy and optimistic. He does not have a clue about what is happening, and that is absolutely frightening. He said the crisis did not seem to have had any impact on employment. Where is he coming from? Will the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation inform him what tourism interests are telling him and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation? Jobs have been lost and thousands more are at risk unless something is done. In Wales, for example, the government has made £12 million available for rates reduction. In effect, it has waived rates. There have been many other initiatives both there and in Scotland. Why is that not happening here?

Why is the Minister sitting in this Chamber? Why is he not abroad leading a delegation? The work should be done now, not at the end of this month. The Minister said last night that £3 million is being made available through savings from Bord Fáilte. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, is not providing anything. The Minister has scraped together some savings. He was not prepared to admit, until I interrupted him, that there might be more. A sum of £3 million is peanuts in such a huge sector.

We want to support the Minister. We want him to go to the Cabinet and bang the table because jobs and an industry are at risk. The Minister is well aware that if many of these businesses go to the wall, they will not be able to reopen. The people in this sector are entrepreneurs, self employed people who took risks, and we must support them. We have a fine product and a good industry. We have succeeded in keeping foot and mouth disease out of the country so the Minister should battle for his sector. He should not be afraid of the Minister for Finance and others. He must fight for his sector and show us some results.

It is somewhat ironic that a plague which primarily afflicts the agricultural sector will inflict more severe damage on a non-agricultural sector of the economy. Government backbench ers have been involved in an orgy of self congratulation and back slapping of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development on the effort that has been made. However, their focus should have been on the sectors of the economy that are taking the greatest hit.

A national sense of purpose has been reflected both inside and outside the House. I pay tribute to Deputy Flanagan for putting down this motion and also to my colleague, Deputy Dukes, the Fine Gael spokesperson on agriculture. Deputy Dukes has given us the Tallaght strategy, mark two, something one could not expect from Fianna Fáil if its members were on this side of the House.

There is a national consensus about how the economy is afflicted. However, with a gratuitous backslap of the hand, the Taoiseach, in his new decisive mode, dismissed compensation for any sector other than the farming community. Good luck to the farming community. Those who lose their animals will be directly compensated. The Minister for Finance, speaking from Brussels early in this crisis, gave an equally dismissive wave of his hand by saying there will not be compensation for any other sector.

Since this debacle began the Minister, Deputy McDaid's, voice has been practically unheard even though the sector of the economy for which he is responsible is taking the biggest hit. That is regrettable. Rather than engage in the token congratulations for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development which were offered by all Government speakers, the Minister should articulate the case for those who are directly in the firing line. Jobs have been, are being and will be lost and some mechanism must be put in place to compensate people.

What is the purpose of a successful economy? It is not an end in itself but a means to an end. It should minimise the impact of the foot and mouth disease crisis on the tourism sector. My colleague, Deputy Deenihan, read a letter from a constituent. All Members of the House have received such letters. Rural tourism will be the hardest hit sector, whether it is walking tours, rural hotels or bed and breakfasts. Deputy Sheehan outlined the financial losses in some detail but there is not an iota of information from the Minister's Department on how to minimise the disruption and the long-term damage to the industry. It is time the public's view that only the farmers will be compensated is corrected and that those who are worst affected are put to the forefront in terms of compensation.

Where are all the Fianna Fáil back slapping backbenchers now? I do not see them in the Chamber. Due to the ongoing tension concerning the possibility of a further outbreak of foot and mouth disease the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development continues to escape criticism in this debate. I wish to say a number of things to the Minister but I will refrain from saying them tonight. There will be another time to speak about the inadequate precautions and the serious irregularities that occurred in recent years with regard to livestock. I will deal with that issue then in a more thorough fashion.

The debate tonight is about the effects on tourism. Conflicting considerations are having a serious effect on the tourism industry and are leading to tensions in certain areas. They have arisen in Galway in the angling tourism areas where landowners are still naturally reluctant to let anglers on to their land. They have a great fear of visitors crossing their land. A decade ago in the lake areas of Galway there was the famous rod licence dispute when anglers stayed off the lakes for two years. They are prepared to stay away from the lakes again rather than risk the possibility of spreading foot and mouth disease.

Everybody acknowledges the efforts of all sections of the community, particularly the hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest houses in the tourism sector. The Government should give recognition to the interests that have suffered a great deal because of the necessary restrictions. Rates should be waived, as should the water charges and the contributions of £170 to the tourism accommodation approval scheme. It is in the Minister's hands.

I thank my 20 Fine Gael colleagues who contributed to this debate in a constructive and positive manner. Five Ministers made contributions. While all of them referred to the crisis and the role of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, none mentioned a package. It was a little like the children's game, pass the parcel. The five Ministers passed the package around but nobody opened it. None of them did anything to allay people's fears about the fall-out and economic consequences of the foot and mouth disease crisis. I am grateful for the support of the Labour Party and the Green Party.

The Government has no appreciation of the serious difficulties being encountered by business and enterprise in this crisis. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have dismissed all claims for compensation in an arrogant and high handed manner. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation acknowledged that losses in the industry might amount to £500 million. Thousands of jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance, particularly in rural Ireland. There must be a rescheduling of restrictions and regulations that will allow for a proper balance to be achieved between reducing the risk of the spread of the disease on the one hand and jeopardising jobs on the other.

The fall-out to date is clear. The economic cost on public utilities such as the ESB and Bord Gáis is substantial and I hope both companies can resume normal work immediately. The contribution of the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation last night was uninspiring and disappointing, as is his amendment. He seems to be adopting a semi-detached stance. His refusal to contemplate compensation is indicative of a weakness at Cabinet. A cost benefit analysis or economic impact assessment must be undertaken immediately. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has a crucial role to play in this crisis but that was missed in the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy.

Fine Gael proposes that following an accurate economic impact assessment, the following initiatives should be contemplated. First, there should be rebates of PAYE, PRSI and VAT by way of temporary relief. Second, there should be an initiative by Government to ensure sympathetic consideration is given by the banks, financial institutions and the Revenue Commissioners. The statement of the Irish Bankers' Federation is welcome and I look forward to monitoring the careful and sympathetic consideration that has been promised to businesses in difficulty. Third, there must be a rebate of council rates for suffering businesses. The possibility of an extra public holiday later in the year should be considered while, even more importantly, there should be an aggressive diplomatic marketing programme, particularly in the tourism and food export sectors. It should loudly proclaim that Ireland is open and safe.

There is a need for a comprehensive statement by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation dealing with the upcoming Easter holiday period. There have been conflicting statements in which the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation invites people to holiday here while his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, tells people to stay away from rural areas. That is damaging and must stop. There is no co-ordination, no clarity and no initiatives.

There needs to be a balance in the fight against the disease. We accept that. The tourism industry employs 150,000 people and earns £3 billion in receipts. It represents 4% of GNP but it is now in crisis. One need only listen to the speeches of my 20 Fine Gael colleagues, in particular that of Deputy Higgins, our spokesman. Other businesses and enterprises in both the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors are also facing huge difficulties. The Government is too laid back regarding the economic consequences and must take a far more vigorous approach such as that envisaged by the Fine Gael motion, which I commend to the House.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.

Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Belton, Louis J.

Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P. Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Níl –continued

Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Hayes, Brian.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.

McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGrath, Paul.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.