Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 16 Jul 1968

Vol. 65 No. 14

Tourist Traffic Bill, 1968 (Certified Money Bill): Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

The purpose of the Bill is, firstly, to authorise an increase in the existing statutory limit on the aggregate amount which may be paid to Bord Fáilte for the giving of grants for the development of holiday accommodation and, secondly, to repeal the provision in the Tourist Traffic Act, 1959, which restricted payments to Bord Fáilte for grants for the development of holiday accommodation and major tourist resorts to a period of ten years from the date of the passing of that Act.

Provision was made in the Tourist Traffic Act, 1959, for the payment to Bord Fáilte of such sums not exceeding in the aggregate £500,000, as the Board might require for the giving of grants for the development of holiday accommodation. The limit of £500,000 was raised to £1.5 million by the Tourist Traffic Act, 1963, and to £3 million by the Tourist Traffic Act, 1966. The total amount issued to Bord Fáilte at 31st March, 1968, was £2,630,000 which left a balance of £370,000 in the authorised amount of £3 million. The amount to be voted in the present financial year is £800,000 and amending legislation is necessary to authorise payments in excess of £370,000 in the present financial year and to provide for payments in future years.

From the funds provided for the development of holiday accommodation, Bord Fáilte operate a scheme of grants to encourage the provision of additional holiday accommodation and the improvement of existing accommodation. Although reasonably good progress had been made in the provision of accommodation since the 1959 Act was passed, an investigation of accommodation requirements carried out by Bord Fáilte in 1965 revealed that a much quicker rate of growth was required to cater for the increase in tourist traffic. The Board calculated that it would be necessary to provide 2,000 additional bedrooms each year up to and including 1970 of which 1,500 should be provided in registered hotels and guesthouses and 500 in supplementary accommodation.

As it was clear that the required rate of growth could not be achieved on the basis of the existing incentives, I authorised Bord Fáilte in April, 1967, to provide substantially increased incentives for the development of holiday accommodation. Prior to that date the general level of grants was of the order of 20 per cent. Apart from the fact that the level of the grants has been generally increased the scheme has been modified in the light of experience to provide for greater flexibility in the provision of financial assistance. Accordingly, Bord Fáilte are now authorised to determine, within certain specified maxima, the level of grant appropriate to each case taking account of all relevant factors including the location of the premises and the adequacy of existing accommodation in the area, the type of accommodation being provided, the price level, the market demand, the prospects of off-season business, the estimated cost of development and the background of the developer.

The current scheme of grants provides for the payment of up to 35 per cent of the total construction cost of new hotels in the western counties. In other remote areas the maximum grant is 25 per cent of total construction cost.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

Senator McDonald should consult his superiors before he starts a filibuster like this.

I am not saying anything at all.

Acting Chairman

Senator McDonald is quite entitled to call for a quorum. A quorum is now present.

We would not let him away that easily.

If he wants to play it that way, we can play it, too.

Where the total construction grants do not apply, grants up to a maximum of 50 per cent of the cost of new hotel bedrooms are provided in the western counties and 40 per cent elsewhere. Grants up to 30 per cent are provided for dining areas, kitchens and stores in hotels in the West and 20 per cent elsewhere. There are also grants for hotel staff accommodation and for the provision of recreational facilities for hotel guests. Guesthouses in all areas are eligible for grants up to 20 per cent of the cost of new bedrooms, provided at least five guest bedrooms are available on completion of the project. Caravan and camping sites are eligible for grants up to a maximum of 50 per cent of the cost of site development and amenity works subject to a maximum grant of £20,000 per site. There are grants also for the provision and improvement of youth hostels and for improvement works in colleges and similar institutions providing accommodation for visitors during vacation periods.

The increase in the level of grants has resulted in an increase in the amount which has to be provided each year to Bord Fáilte for the purposes of the scheme. For instance, the amount provided in 1965-66 was £255,000; in 1966-67 it was £500,000; in 1967-68 it was £700,000; and in the present financial year the amount required to finance the scheme is £800,000.

Since the scheme was introduced in 1959 it has stimulated an investment of £15 million by private enterprise in holiday accommodation. The number of bedrooms in registered hotels and guesthouses has increased from 17,200 in 1960 to 24,000 in the present year, an increase of almost 40 per cent. There has also been a significant improvement in the standards of accommodation.

The increased incentives introduced in April, 1967, have had an immediate response from promoters. Figures available for the 1st January, 1968, showed that there was a net increase of almost 1,300 bedrooms in hotels and guesthouses in 1967 although the increased grants were available for less than nine months of the year. Continued expansion and improvement of accommodation will be necessary to cater for the increasing number of tourists and there will be a particular need to cater for motoring visitors. The number of passenger accompanied cars brought directly to ports in the State increased from 10,000 in 1959 to 68,000 in 1967. Bord Fáilte estimate that by 1970 about 150,000 cars will arrive directly and a further 100,000 through Six County ports.

The present range of grants will fall due for review in 1969 but there is no doubt that a continuation of financial assistance will be necessary to secure the required rate of expansion. Already a large number of projects are being planned for the coming years and Bord Fáilte anticipate that the target of 1,500 additional bedrooms in registered hotels and guesthouses will be achieved in each of the next three years.

I am, accordingly, proposing that the present statutory limit of £3 million for the giving of grants for the development of holiday accommodation should be increased by £2.5 million to £5.5 million. On the basis of information at present available this increase should be sufficient to provide for accommodation grants up to 31st March, 1971. I should explain that the purpose of this provision is to obtain the general approval of the Oireachtas for the financing of the accommodation development scheme. The amount to be provided each year will fall to be voted by the Dáil in the normal way under the Vote for the Department of Transport and Power.

Although there has been a substantial increase in registered hotel and guesthouse accommodation since 1960 —from 17,200 bedrooms in 1960 to 24,000 in the present year—the increase in supplementary accommodation has been more significant. The number of bedrooms in supplementary accommodation included in Bord Fáilte lists increased from 815 in 1960 to 8,400 in the present year. The increase in A star and A hotel bedrooms has been 68 per cent in this period; in other accommodation the increase has amounted to 82 per cent.

In addition to providing for an increase in the statutory limit on the amount to be provided for the development of holiday accommodation, the Bill also contains a provision to repeal a restriction contained in the Tourist Traffic Act, 1959, which limited the payment of funds for the development of holiday accommodation and major tourist resorts to a period of ten years from the date of passing of that Act. I consider that the annual debate on the Vote for my Department and the fact that legislation is required every two or three years to authorise an increase in the aggregate amount provides sufficient control over the administration of the scheme without imposing a specific time limit.

The ten year limitation applies not only to payments for the development of holiday accommodation but also to payments for the development of major tourist resorts. The aggregate amount to be provided for the development of major tourist resorts was increased to £3.25 million by the Tourist Traffic Act, 1966. The total amount issued at 31st March, 1968, was just over £1.5 million. As the amount being provided in the current financial year is £400,000 it is now clear that there will be a considerable balance remaining in the authorised amount of £3.25 million at the expiration of the ten year period in August, 1969. It is intended to undertake a second programme for the development of major tourist resorts when the works at present in hands have been completed, and, in the circumstances, I have no doubt that Senators will agree to the removal of the time limitation so that the major resort development scheme can be continued after August, 1969.

The further development of the tourist industry depends to a very great extent on the availability of an adequate supply of holiday accommodation. There are good grounds for believing that the incentive scheme now in operation will achieve the rate of growth required to cater for the anticipated increase in demand. It is equally important that the major resort development scheme should be continued. Bord Fáilte are at present embarking on a policy of promoting year-round tourism and the development of this policy will give rise to an increasing demand for entertainment and recreation facilities.

There is no need for me to remind Senators of the importance of the tourist industry to the national economy. Since 1959 the income from tourism and travel has risen from £39.4 million to £84.3 million in 1967. During the period of the Second Programme for Economic Expansion tourist income at constant money values rose at a rate of 5.5 per cent a year. I am confident that this rate of growth can be maintained and possibly increased provided the necessary resources and facilities are made available. The purpose of this Bill is to enable these resources to be made available and I, accordingly, confidently recommend the Bill for the approval of the Seanad.

I welcome this Bill but perhaps the Minister would explain what appears to me to be an inconsistency. He said that the number of bedrooms had increased from 17,200 in 1960 to 24,000 in the present year, an increase of almost 40 per cent, and later on he said that the number of bedrooms in supplementary accommodation included in Bord Fáilte lists show that the increase in A star and A hotel bedrooms had been 68 per cent in this period, and in other accommodation the increase amounted to 82 per cent. There appears to be some inconsistency there. This is a very important piece of legislation because the tourist industry accounts for a considerable portion of our national income, and I still think that it is regrettable that we should rush this measure through, almost burning the midnight oil to do so.

There are many small points which are annoying people engaged in the industry as well as tourists and the Minister should use his good offices to try to effect an improvement. A common complaint is that restaurants with wine licences are unable to serve Gaelic coffee with a meal. There must be some alteration in the regulations to enable this to be done. Tourists regard Gaelic coffee as a feature of our meals and sometimes they cannot understand why it cannot be served and they are inclined to look down on the establishment which is unable to serve Irish coffee. Surely it should be possible to introduce an amendment to the licensing laws so that a restaurant owner would be enabled to serve Irish coffee as part of a full meal? There should also be dispensing licences available to all restaurants that need them.

Again and again we are told that the tourist industry is our second major industry. Yet, we find small matters like this which seem to be insurmountable obstacles. Surely it should be possible for the Government to introduce legislation to make the situation easier for all concerned? It is ludicrous that people should not be allowed to serve a drink to those waiting for a meal.

I hope the moneys being provided under this Bill, or some part of them, will be earmarked for farm guesthouses which have provided a tremendous amount of supplementary accommodation over the past few years. Latterly it appears to me that these guesthouses are being frowned on in some quarters. I think that is a pity.

We are getting somewhat away from the Bill. Farmhouse accommodation comes under a separate heading. It has nothing to do with this Bill at all. Neither have the licensing laws anything to do with the Bill.

Surely they are matters related to tourism?

It was agreed two years ago, when changes were made in relation to the Appropriation Bill and the Finance Bill, that Senators would have an opportunity of discussing legislation before the House a little more fully. That was, I think, understood. If there is to be a change now, we should, I think, have notice of it.

There is nothing to stop the Senator on the Appropriation Bill.

But this is not the Appropriation Bill.

It will come in due course.

But we will not have the Minister in charge of the tourist industry here on that Bill.

There is one thing I find it rather difficult to understand as a member of the regional midland tourist board. Some counties seem to benefit more than other counties from the various grants given by Bord Fáilte. The counties that benefit most are those west of the Shannon. I find this a little inconsistent. One can have two guesthouses, one in Offaly and one in Roscommon, with a completely different scale of grants. Surely it should have been possible initially to have rules and regulations applying all round? I should like the Minister to ensure that regional boards will have a little more autonomy from the point of view of being allowed a little more flexibility in the expenditure of their annual budget. The scope of the directors, in my experience, is curbed somewhat when it comes to spending money in any particular direction. I think that is bad, particularly when one remembers that these directors are expected to travel 50 and 60 miles to meetings and get no subsistence or travelling expenses. Possibly too much is being asked of these people and the day may come when these regional tourist boards will be comprised solely of people actively engaged in the industry itself, people who will have a self-interest in the industry. I think that would be bad.

Laois, my own county, seems to be the Cinderella of the tourist industry. We have got very little from Bord Fáilte. The only grant Bord Fáilte ever gave to Laois was the grant of £1,100 this year towards the museum for old steam engines at Stradbally opened by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister some weeks back. I think the Parliamentary Secretary was not aware of the fact that the occasion was unique. Laois has fared very badly. Every county should have a reasonable share of whatever is going. We should, in Laois, get special grants to provide hotel accommodation. We need some boost to the industrial life of the county. We should qualify for grants on the same generous scale as do the counties west of the Shannon. I think regional tourist boards should get a better allocation of grants. Is that possible under this measure?

One thing that worries me is the fact that Bord Fáilte always send their own officers overseas on tourist promotion and these people, in my opinion, are inclined to sell the popular resorts, like Killarney, Connemara and Donegal. Other regions receive scant mention by these people when they go abroad. It is in the interests of the less popular tourist areas that these regions should be allowed to send one of their officials overseas on tourist promotion. The manager of the midlands regional tourist organisation should be seconded to Bord Fáilte and should represent the area on these promotional tours, especially tours to Britain, in order to highlight the excellent facilities available in the area for holidaymakers.

This is something that perhaps may not seem important but I defy contradiction when I state that the people whom we send out from Bord Fáilte to Europe and America for the purpose of attracting tourists to this country endeavour to sell only the well-known holiday resorts I have mentioned. This is a wrong approach and I would ask the Minister to ensure that every part of the country gets fair representation. The various local authorities endeavour to pay the annual subscriptions in respect of tourism and unless there is a reasonable opportunity of a return on their investment, justice is not done.

I would ask the Minister to ensure that at the end of this season, when programmes for promotional tours are recommencing for the autumn and winter months, managers or, perhaps, some of the officials from the various regions should be given an opportunity of selling their own regions as tourist areas.

The Senator has been repeating that statement very frequently. Repetition is not in order.

I was only endeavouring to stress the point.

Repetition is still not in order.

With the introduction of the car ferry service we are, apparently, getting a greater percentage of English tourists, the majority of whom are not so very interested in expensive A star and Grade A hotel accommodation and perhaps we have sufficient of this type of accommodation for the time being. Bord Fáilte should for a few years emphasise the necessity of providing adequate B and C type accommodation which tourist class people from the British midlands would appear to favour. A change of policy on the part of Bord Fáilte would have this effect.

There is the problem of the shortness of the tourist season. If too much Grade A accommodation is provided, it will only aggravate redundancy or unemployment during the winter months, which is not a very good result.

In regard to the hotel apprenticeship scheme, there has been some disquiet and a suggestion that boys and girls training for positions in the hotel industry were being to some degree exploited. I have heard this mentioned in more than one place. I should like the Board and the Minister to investigate the matter so that the House and those concerned can be reassured that these trainees are receiving adequate training and that their hours of work are reasonable.

Most of the points I had prepared would not appear to meet with the approval of the Minister at this hour of the night and so I shall leave them over for the Appropriation Bill.

In this Bill we are authorising the increase in the money that will be allocated to Bord Fáilte from £3 million to £5½ million. We are therefore entitled to discuss in this House the whole policy of Bord Fáilte which means, in effect, the whole national policy in regard to tourist promotion. However, I can assure the House that I do not intend to do that.

We have had a special plug for County Laois. There are some other 25 counties and I hope we are not going to have special plugs for each of them. My own county of Cork has so many natural beauties that it does not need any special plug.

What is that but a special plug?

What I want to say very quickly is that Bord Fáilte are to be congratulated on the work they have been doing and associated with that would be the efforts of Aer Lingus and CIE to help in the promotion of the tourist industry. The need now is to get across to the ordinary people of the country that tourism is something that affects them individually. It is not something that affects the Grade A hotels solely; it is a major industry which affects the standard of living of all of us. I should like to see greater appreciation of that fact throughout the country. Bord Fáilte have already taken steps by the promotion of regional tourist development areas and the appointment of regional officers to bring the importance of tourism to the notice of local people.

I hope that Bord Fáilte will continue in their efforts. It is very easy to pick up small points of criticism. We can all crib about something or other. My crib at the moment is the dirt of Dublin streets, which are a disgrace to the capital city. This affects tourism. We can all have a particular crib about some service or other, about what Bord Fáilte should do about this, that or the other thing, but it is fair to say that, overall, they have been reasonably successful. From what I know of them, they are an enterprising, energetic group of people and they certainly need to be because tourism is a very competitive industry. We like to assume that we are very busy promoting the development of the tourist industry here and that no other country is thinking of tourism. In fact, that is not the case. Every country attaches particular importance to its tourist industry. We are in a very competitive field. In the competitive field in which we have been engaged we have been reasonably successful and in approving of the Bill, I wish to convey that and to express the hope that Bord Fáilte will be as successful and as energetic in future as they have been in the past.

I, too, wish to commend the Bill, which represents a substantial investment in an industry which is of vital importance to the economic future of the country. There is no doubt that there has been a very dramatic growth in the tourist industry in recent years, and that the availability of more hotel accommodation has been quite a factor in this. However, there are other developments which have also played a part. For instance, in my part of the country we have had considerable development of horse caravan tours which have been distinctly successful. Advertising of this form of holiday transport in European newspapers last year seems to have paid off considerable dividends. The people who visited were extremely pleased with this unique method of transport. The comfort of this was appreciated as well as which this mode of travel gave these people an opportunity of meeting our people and the friendliness of our people in city, town and country is one of the great assets we have. It was appreciated very much by foreign visitors especially.

Bord Fáilte have assisted to a great extent in the development of the Tidy Towns competition and I am glad to see that some points I have made here in previous years have reached fruition—certain ideas I put forward in the matter of the allocation of the prizes in this competition. However, there is need for a better liaison between the Minister for Transport and Power and the Minister for Local Government in these matters; in the provision of better amenities, particularly water supplies and sewerage schemes, some of which are still extremely primitive in many of our important resorts.

There has been, for instance, abandonment of many regional schemes, though the local authorities were diverted from the provision of smaller water supply schemes which might have sufficed, pending the implementation of the regional projects. The virtual abandonment of these schemes means there is a backlog to be made up and there is serious concern about the lack of such civilised amenities. This has been commented on adversely by visitors to certain areas in my county and elsewhere. There is therefore an urgent need for the Minister for Local Government to announce the promotion of substantial investment in the provision of these essential amenities because their lack leaves a very poor impression on visitors.

Some time ago I appealed to the Minister to provide us with a tourist office in Bandon. This was not done, and locally we formed an organisation and entirely from our own resources this year we provided an office and staffed it. The results have proved the necessity for such an office in Bandon and we have now been assured that next year Bord Fáilte will staff a permanent tourist office in the town. I hope that promise will be honoured.

Another development by Bord Fáilte has been the introduction of a scheme for students from abroad who wish to learn English here. They are to be accommodated in homes in this country. My town has been successful this year in getting a group of these students and I consider it an excellent acquisition. In most of those homes there are children of similar age groups and it gives them an opportunity to converse in the language of the students and vice versa. When these foreign children return to their homes, I hope they will carry happy memories of their association with Irish people and that in consequence not only will they return but that their parents and relatives will also be encouraged to visit us.

Tourist traffic has been considerably increased by the introduction of car ferries and this has been to the benefit of areas not heretofore regarded as having tourist interest. They are now being acknowledged as being good places in which to spend holidays.

In the past we have been directing attention to the luxury type hotel accommodation, losing sight of the fact that the most important type of tourist we get is the ordinary working person from England. Such people are happy to come here and they are of more benefit to us, from the point of view of the money spent, than tourists who come from further afield. Therefore, we should concentrate more on providing more accommodation for that class of tourist.

I was happy to be associated, with Dr. Beere and the Taoiseach, in the opening of a new An Óige hostel in Kinsale. It is a credit to all concerned and it emphasises the need for more such accommodation for that type of traveller. I have not much more to add except to commend this expenditure and to say how happy we have been in our experience as members of the Cork County Vocational Education Committee in being associated with the organisation of the hotel training school in the county. It has produced some excellently trained personnel to staff our hotels. I have expressed some concern at the treatment meted out to many of these boys and girls quite frequently in the employment they receive afterwards. I hope this is transitory and that the conditions of employment afforded them will be commensurate with the excellent training they have received.

There are just a few points I wish to make on this measure. Whether it is oriented towards the expansion of the number of hotel bedrooms or not—I assume that under its provisions new hotels will be constructed—there has been a precedent that a lot of new hotels make no provision for residents' lounges, most of the effort being concentrated on the construction of massive bars which take up the space that should have been given to the provision of residents' lounges. English people, particularly, complain that because of lack of residents' lounges, they have to sit in their bedrooms. It is essential, therefore, that provision be made for such lounges so that residents can enjoy the comfort for which they pay and which they expect. This is a matter affecting seaside places in particular.

On the question of festival promotion, attention has been directed recently in seaside places to public house entertainment. The first point to be considered here is that public houses find themselves in competition with newly constructed hotel bars, constructed with the help of grants from Bord Fáilte. In contrast, no inducement is offered to public houses in this respect.

Hear, hear. Not only that but they are mulcted in increased valuations.

There is a tendency now for visitors to object to the prices they are asked to pay in hotels. I had a case the other day of a visitor who went to an hotel and was asked to pay 6s 6d for a pint of stout and 7s 6d for a pint of lager.

Over the winter period, I found it almost distressing to listen on the radio every morning to one of our State companies and other private companies publicising European countries for half an hour and trying to persuade Irish people to leave Ireland and go to these countries on holiday. I have not heard any company suggesting to anybody that Ireland is a good place for the Irish people to spend their holidays. Whatever currency we earn from our tourist traffic will be whittled away by Irish people going abroad and exporting the currency we need so much.

I would like to join with the other speakers in congratulating Bord Fáilte on the work they are doing. If we are to keep in the tourist industry, we must have these amenities for which the Bill provides. I hope the complaints we hear so much of at present will gradually disappear.

I wish to thank the House for their reception of the Bill. There is not very much I need say at this point. The tourist potential of each area relates to some extent to the amount of facilities available from Bord Fáilte or in the form of any other grants. There are priorities in the form of lists of potential attractions to tourists which affect the amount of income which can be provided for any area, including certain regions of areas classified as of very high potential. For example, not everywhere in Kerry is regarded as completely high scenic value and so forth.

The managers of the regional tourist boards can deal with the questions raised by Senator McDonald. There are meetings with Bord Fáilte in relation to the fairness of allocations. Regional tourist board directors do not go out to Europe: Bord Fáilte representatives go there. There are familiarisation courses in the country to which tourist agents come from abroad to Ireland. The value of any regional board is judged by the local enthusiasm generated and its tourist expenditure over the past six years. I have not had any complaints of unfair allocations.

Senators raised the question of moderately - priced accommodation. This is consistently increasing. The increase in supplementary accommodation from 815 rooms a few years ago to 8,940 is, I think, supplying this demand adequately. I am glad to say that the farmhouse grants referred to by Senator McDonald, although not the subject of this Bill because they are given under another subhead, are being taken up very well. There are between 1,500 and 2,000 farmhouse bedrooms available this year. It was an idea I had which I always hoped to see eventuate. It is going very well. They are enormously popular among tourists of all classes of income.

Senator O'Sullivan referred to the establishment of an information office in his area. As he knows, the Regional Tourist Board operates an information office, and I am glad to hear that the cost is being paid for by next year. He might be interested to learn also that one of the first detailed development reports of a particular tourist area is the Foras Forbartha Report on the tourist potential and rules for the preservation of amenities in the Beara peninsula. It is one of the first examples of how you can plan the development of an area and preserve its beauty.

Senator McDonald suggested that in some areas staff in hotels might be exploited. I think the treatment of staff is important everywhere. Staff accommodation grants are offered by Bord Fáilte. I do not think it is sufficiently easy to get staff so that there could be any great exploitation of them, although I know there can be improvements still, particularly in regard to the conditions under which they work. I hope the improvement will continue.

Bord Fáilte do insist on proper residential lounge areas in hotels for which they give grants. In reply to Senator Honan, I am aware it is a very important factor. There are no grants for bars offered by Bord Fáilte, only for extensions or reconstruction of dining room areas in the case of an existing hotel.

I think that covers all the points. I do not know whether Senator O'Sullivan appreciates the fact that Bord Fáilte are authorised to give grants to hostels—50 per cent up to a maximum of £5,000 in western counties and 25 per cent in other areas.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without recommendation, received for final consideration and passed.

No. 6, Broadcasting (Offences) Bill, 1967—Second Stage.

As it is now just three minutes to eleven, surely we could leave this matter over until tomorrow? We agreed to adjourn at 11 p.m.

The position is that I ordered all these Bills for today so that we could clear the table for the matters which will concern the Seanad for the next period. I asked at the start of Business today that we sit late to complete this programme.

It is a very ambitious programme.

I do not see any reason why we should not finish.

We agreed to adjourn at 11 p.m.

You could not remember the Order of Business a few minutes ago. I cannot be responsible for the fact that you have no support there. We want to get the business done and we are here to do it.

I think it is an unreasonable hour to start into a new Bill. It is now one minute to eleven. Surely we can adjourn until tomorrow?

I can see Senator McDonald's point inasmuch as there are a number of sections in the Bill which might require discussion.

The Seanad adjourned at 11 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 17th July, 1968.