Impact of the Foot and Mouth Crisis on Tourism: Statements.

I thank the House for organising this special debate and for giving me the opportunity to speak.

During the course of the crisis, the primary preoccupation of the Government, supported in large measure by the public, has been to ensure that foot and mouth disease is confined to the one outbreak. I indicated in two recent Dáil Adjournment Debates and a full day session of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation, on 22 March, that the possibility of widespread outbreaks of the disease threatens our economy, security and the livelihoods of not just those in the farming, agriculture and food industries but potentially of every citizen, particularly those in the tourism sector. I pay tribute to my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, and his staff for the sure footed manner in which they are tackling the crisis, and for their extraordinary hard work and dedication.

The recent heart breaking, stark images from County Louth and Britain give an indication of what a full scale outbreak would mean and put into perspective the sacrifices we have made. For tourism, a full outbreak would result in sustained negative international publicity, more internal and external travel restrictions and the prolonged closure of key attractions and facilities. Let us hope and pray that we do not face such a scenario.

On behalf of the Government, I thank the tourism and hospitality industry, which is on the economic front line in the battle against foot and mouth disease, for its support and patience in recent weeks in accepting the controls which were put in place. The industry has sustained a substantial hit in loss of business but has been mature enough to see it as an essential contribution to the bigger objective of fighting the disease.

The economic importance of the tourism sector should not be underestimated. It employs over 15,000 and earns £3 billion in foreign exchange annually. One in 12 jobs is dependent on tourism. It represents over 4% of GNP and makes a critical contribution to regional and rural development. This industry has almost doubled in terms of employment and increased threefold in terms of foreign earnings over the past ten years.

It is important to point out, however, that the scale and importance of the tourism industry in modern Ireland is not always fully appreciated by the public because of its diverse nature and the number of small firms involved. While agricultural employment has decreased steadily in recent years, tourism has experienced phenomenal growth. The reports we hear every day of the impact and scale of foot and mouth disease on tourism will serve to get the message across that tourism is one of our largest industries, not far behind agriculture in economic importance.

The tourism and hospitality industry is hurting as a result of the foot and mouth crisis. An up-to-date assessment puts losses at over £200 million, excluding the impact on air and sea carrier receipts which I forecast will be substantial too. If the current situation were to continue until August, it is estimated that the potential loss of out of State visitor receipts could rise to £500 million. This does not take into account the separate and significant losses in domestic tourism and hospitality business due to cancelled events and conferences and the apparent reluctance of the public to take short breaks in Ireland. Since the onset of this crisis my Department, Bord Fáilte and I have worked energetically to support the industry and we have taken a range of measures to deal with the situation. I would like to outline ten specific actions we are taking.

I encouraged the tourism and sports sectors to take a series of initiatives in support of the national campaign to minimise the spread of foot and mouth disease. Major industry groups such as the Irish Hotels Federation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland asked their members to take a range of precautionary measures. Bord Fáilte suspended the active promotion of high risk land-based recreational activities, and sporting organisations and festival groups voluntarily cancelled events. Such initiatives have demonstrated the commitment of the tourism and sport sectors to playing a full role in combating the disease.

I set up structured arrangements to ensure the tourism industry's views are taken on board and their concerns are made known, particularly with regard to key decisions about control measures. On 8 March, I met a delegation from the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation – ITIC – to discuss the situation and have kept in close contact with the industry since then. I am a member of the key Government task force which convenes every morning, under the chairmanship of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, to monitor and review measures to prevent the spread of the disease. In addition, a high level action group, chaired by the chief executive of Bord Fáilte and including key representatives of ITIC and my Department, has been established to monitor continually the situation. This group has met twice weekly over the past few weeks with the active participation and support of the industry. Its objective is to actively manage issues which are affecting tourism business already booked and to limit medium and long-term damage to the industry's image and prospects overseas.

We have pressed strongly in appropriate fora for a phased modification of the control measures in line with the evolving risk situation. This pressure brought about the easing of the control measures announced on Friday, 16 March by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. This followed a report by a technical expert group under the chairmanship of Professor Michael Monaghan, supported by a separate report from the high level tourism action group. The guidelines issued by the expert group, together with clarifications given during the press conference by the Minister, Deputy Walsh, enabled a significant number of low risk events and activities in the tourism and sports areas to recommence immediately.

With industry support, we have pressed for the phased reopening of key State cultural and heritage attractions to allow a full and varied array of facilities to be available to visitors. National cultural institutions such as the National Gallery, the National Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Chester Beatty Library and Dublin's City Hall have remained open, together with most of the attractions operated by Dublin Tourism and Shannon Development. Following the easing of control measures on Friday, 16 March, Dublin Castle, Kilkenny Castle and the Rock of Cashel reopened. On 27 March the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands announced that a further 11 heritage sites would be reopened the following day and that further sites would be kept under review, which was welcome news to the tourism industry. In a recent press statement, I encouraged those involved in the provision of tourism facilities and attractions to familiarise themselves with, and to be guided by, the guidelines of the expert group with a view to restoring as much of our key tourism infrastructure as possible.

We have arranged to ensure, through the Bord Fáilte website and associated call centres, that there is regularly updated information available to visitors and the trade, including information about major attractions and events which are open. The Bord Fáilte website is updated daily and contains a very comprehensive regional listing of the tourism attractions open at present. Tourism-related calls to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development foot and mouth disease helpline are being processed through Bord Fáilte. Hot links between key websites, including The Irish Times website, Ireland.com, have been put in place.

I am anxious a clear message is sent that Ireland is open for tourism business and that, subject to the taking of appropriate precautions, Ireland remains a welcoming destination for international visitors. I have confirmed this in press statements and I believe it is entirely consistent with recent specific advice from the expert group. The new guidelines mean we can welcome urban based visitors from the United Kingdom and other affected countries. This positive message was reinforced by the Taoiseach in his remarks on 22 March at the naming of the Irish Ferries car ferry Ulysses, and by Sir Reg Empey and me at the North-South Ministerial Council meeting last Friday in Letterkenny. I am arranging that these positive messages are highlighted in Bord Fáilte's and my Department's websites.

We have been pressing for an easing of the restrictions on the movement of people within Ireland to help the accommodation sector recover from the effects of the cancellation of conference and seminar business and domestic tourism. It is important that people realise that the expert group's easing of restrictions on gatherings in defined locations means that indoor meetings, conferences, and certain sporting events may resume. Over the past week I have launched a strong appeal to the business community not to cancel or postpone conferences arranged for cities and towns in the lowest risk category specified by the expert group. This morning, the Government reviewed its instructions to Departments and State agencies to encourage them to allow such low risk activities to resume.

On Friday, 16 March, the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources announced the lifting of the ban on angling with effect from the following day. Under new guidelines, sea angling is permitted together with angling which does not involve access to lands to which susceptible animals have had access. This will go some way towards meeting the concerns of angling visitors who have been particularly badly affected by the crisis.

Following a meeting I held with the chairman and chief executive of Bord Fáilte, the board is launching a special tourism marketing and promotion reassurance programme which will come into effect this weekend. The programme, comprising an initial component costing £3 million, will consist of tailor made trade and consumer campaigns, joint activity with trade partners and special consumer events in key European and US cities. I intend to personally lead these campaigns. Bord Fáilte has identified savings from within its budget to assist in meeting the costs involved in mounting these campaigns and I have sought supplementary funding for this purpose from the Minister for Finance.

Prior to Christmas, I launched the largest ever annual tourism marketing programme involving the joint expenditure by the tourism industry and Bord Fáilte of £100 million during 2001, of which approximately £35 million is Exchequer funding. I requested the industry to put together a range of attractively priced short break packages to ensure a greater level of domestic holidays this year. We are also considering further initiatives to give domestic holidays a particular boost and I have urged people to holiday at home this year.

I have also appealed to the banks, financial institutions and the Revenue Commissioners to be as sympathetic as possible to any tourism business which experiences cash flow difficulties as a result of the foot and mouth crisis. I received a very constructive response from the banks yesterday which stated:

The banks are very mindful of their role in supporting customers through this difficult period. The banks are committed to giving careful and sympathetic consideration to requests for particular support from those business customers who encounter financial difficulties as a consequence of foot and mouth disease. Such support may take the form of additional short-term credit, rescheduling of existing credit repayments and, where necessary, a moratorium on repayments. It is crucially important that banks are advised by their customers of the development of such problems as soon as they arise.

The banks are confident that they will not be found wanting and I applaud them for the initiatives they are taking. While there has been unprecedented growth and success in the tourism industry over the past decade, inevitable temporary setbacks are experienced in the economic cycle which do not undermine the medium to long-term sustainability of the business. I expect a mature and enlightened business approach on the part of the financial institutions to help businesses to trade out of their current difficulties where necessary.

The Taoiseach and Minister for Finance have confirmed that it is not possible to compensate tourism interests. It is more practical to put in place an aggressive international and domestic tourism marketing campaign, supplemented by measures to assist companies to trade out of any temporary financial difficulties. My Department and Bord Fáilte are keeping the situation under close scrutiny with a view to making appropriate further adjustments, in consultation with the industry, to planned marketing and promotional activities. While we are all conscious of the threat to agriculture, we must not lose sight of the extent of the disease's impact on the tourism and hospitality industry. Our shared objective must be to ensure that no unnecessary medium to long-term damage is done to the tourism industry which is so important in economic terms.

The tourism industry has successfully dealt with crises in the past, including the fall-out from the Gulf War and the troubles in Northern Ireland. It is a resilient and strong industry which, while bleeding at present, will successfully overcome this crisis if we all work together. I was delighted to hear the forecast from the Central Bank last week that economic growth is expected to run at a rate of 5% to 6.5%. Other European countries would give their right arms for such forecasts.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members for providing me with the opportunity to address the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. His presence here underlines the importance and significance of this debate and the enormity of the crisis facing us. It is difficult to know where to begin assessing the damage which has already been done, aside from the potential damage which may occur until such time as the outbreak is contained in the UK. Recent reports from the UK suggest the disease is not expected to peak until June or July, by which time some 4,000 cases are expected to be confirmed. These projections are alarming. While the disease is rampant in the UK, it will impact dramatically on this country. We have seen that to date with the catastrophic revenue losses – currently estimated at £200 million – in our tourism industry at such an early stage in the tourist season.

The tourism industry will, I believe, suffer more than the agriculture industry as a result of this crisis. Farmers are suffering badly at present from cash flow problems and cannot move their stock to markets but the value of their stock is increasing rapidly. The price of livestock will undoubtedly rocket when this crisis passes and, this time next year, farmers will be in a different position. Tourism, however, is a very perishable commodity; a lost bed night can never be replaced.

While I welcome the Minister's statement, I note a certain ambivalence in the attitudes expressed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, on the one hand, and the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation on the other. That ambivalence is reflected by the advertising campaign being conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to discourage people from travelling to Ireland while the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation stands on the sidelines looking aghast at the devastation of the tourism industry. Both Departments and their Ministers will need to remove the ambivalence that exists in the public consciousness. They need to have a policy that will be acceptable to everyone without exposing the country to undue risk, while also controlling our advertising abroad so that it does not give the wrong impression. The perception in the United States is of a country teeming with animal disease, a misconception has to be removed. This can only be done through advertising.

I was disappointed that in the Minister's speech there were no specific areas targeted for reversing misconceptions. While he dealt at length with some of the major issues, his speech was lacking in specifics about dealing with the crisis now. The tourism season is about to start and I do not believe that we can reclaim much, if any, of the trade this year. That may be a very pessimistic observation. However, I believe that when people get turned off a holiday, they pull out and it is virtually impossible to get them to change their minds again that year. The Minister and his Department have much thinking to do about how to reclaim lost ground for the coming year. I welcome measures he has outlined today, but they will not do much to reclaim that business.

There are operators in all areas of tourism who are affected by serious cash flow problems. I was glad to see the announcement today by the Irish Bankers' Federation that the banks would look sympathetically at businesses which are suffering severe cash flow problems. Nevertheless, the last line of their statement indicating that each request will be looked at individually suggests that some people will suffer irrespective of the banks' attitude. I am sure that businesses which were having slight problems with the banks heretofore will not be looked at very favourably on this occasion. While in principle they are willing to support the industry, it will be interesting to see the extent of that support. The banks have a contribution to make in this. They have amassed great profits on the back of the Celtic tiger and it behoves them now to contribute something to the industry that is in serious trouble.

The Minister could look at a range of options. He has stated that the Government has decided not to make money available to businesses which have suffered directly from this crisis. Nevertheless, measures will have to be put in place, which should include oil and diesel rebates for coach and tour operators. Some of those who are normally at full capacity at this time of the year are now down to zero and have no coach tours scheduled. The number of cancellations is disquieting.

In the coming weeks there will be a clamour for more action from the Government. The Minister will need to prepare himself for an avalanche of demands from representatives of the industry to get them over this critical period in the tourism business. There is a danger that in the space of one year, this industry could be plunged back to where it was in the 1960s and 1970s. That would be a total disaster but it is a distinct possibility. We need to put in place whatever measures we can even now to reverse the perception abroad about coming to Ireland.

There are about 60 million people in the UK and most of them would never have been on a farm in their lives. There is a vast market there and it is wrong to give the message that there is a high risk in those people coming here. There are brilliant statisticians here who should be able to do a computer aided risk analysis to define mathematically where the true risks lie and our policy should be based on this.

There was a suggestion that, in the initial stages of the outbreak in Britain, we went slightly overboard in our attempts to prevent or contain a possible outbreak of the disease here. That may or may not be justified. Both the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and his Department have done a great job and have been at the cutting edge in dealing with this catastrophe. The incidence has been contained to just one outbreak. However, the fallout from this catastrophe ultimately will be greater in the tourism industry than in agriculture.

While I welcome the measures the Minister has outlined, they do not go far enough. All the operators and the people involved in hotels, guest houses and farm house accommodation will be looking for some measures to tide them over for the next few months. We cannot ignore their demands because they have built up the tourism industry over the past 30 years at enormous expense. Approximately £30 billion has been invested in that period and we cannot let the industry be annihilated completely in 2001.

The Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development will have to work together to come up with a realistic set of proposals and a realistic response to the demands of the tourism industry to see how we can open up our markets, without adding any risk. Each week more of our heritage centres are re-opening. In hindsight, we might have been wise to go ahead with the St. Patrick's Day parades as their cancellation sent out very negative images. Those images have become a massive misconception of how things stand here and we must all think positively and realistically.

The industry is waiting for a comprehensive and realistic response from the Minister and the Government. While the measures the Minister has outlined are very welcome, the industry will not respond positively to them as it is expecting much more.

I welcome the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, and thank him for coming, particularly on such an important matter as the implications for tourism of foot and mouth disease.

I listened recently to submissions by a number of bodies involved in the industry at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation and I noted a few of the points that were made. The points they made, and they made them sincerely, were put on the day the case in Louth was announced and we were all very depressed. We must compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, but we must also compliment the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, a Minister with a responsibility to develop and promote tourism, who rowed in behind what were the proper procedures to be taken to ensure that this was contained. As the old saying goes, there is not much use shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. There is no point in calling off parades and matches when the harm is already done. Every step was taken, and taken in time, and great credit is due to everyone concerned, particularly to the Departments.

At the joint committee we heard from a number of organisations. Tour operators spoke about their visitors contributing £200 million per year to the economy, of employing 300 people and of the losses they had suffered, but they took it on the chin, as did other organisations, and they look forward to moving on in the coming months. The decisions taken by the Departments and the expert group set up by the Minister to lift some restrictions on visitor sites are welcome. Many Dúchas sites are located in the heart of good farmland, the risk was great and it was right to take action. We also heard from those involved in coach hire, people who had looked forward, who had developed tourism and invested heavily in buses and facilities. They have been serious losers over the last couple of months but, please God, their investments will have been well made in terms of future developments as the year progresses. The Minister met with the banks, they replied and that is to be welcomed. All in tourism are hopeful that the banks will take on board what the Minister has said and, over the coming months, that they will treat with sympathy those who have very substantial repayments to make.

Irish Ferries also spoke to the committee and described how last year they brought in 1.8 million passengers, 400,000 cars and 9,400 coaches. They employ 1,200 and they have been hit with a drop of about 30% in custom, which is substantial. The Minister's ten point plan will see a lot of the losses of the last couple of months made good, and made good on the double as the year progresses. I was very interested to listen to what Bord Fáilte had to say. They had planned a 5% increase in visitor numbers for this year but, from what the Minster has said about direct spend by Bord Fáilte for marketing, that will be made up as the year goes on and news improves as to foot and mouth disease. We can look forward to better times later in the year. There are other bodies which have to help the Minister promote tourism, for example, the airlines and all those who have benefited substantially from the numbers coming here, those who have developed tourism here. Those organisations should make an effort to reduce prices to enable more people to visit in the second half of this year.

Aer Rianta, a semi-State body, must look at reducing landing charges and every reduction generally will improve the prospect of bringing in more tourists. We also have to look at those who sensationalised announcements of foot and mouth disease when there were no outbreaks, merely precautionary investigations of lame sheep. The papers tended to sensationalise and we had a major problem abroad as a result.

In rural areas the groups who are going to be hit hard, who have already been hit hard, are the Town and Country Homes Association and Irish Farmhouse Holidays. Something special needs to be done for them. They have worked really hard, doing an excellent job developing tourism and providing an alternative income for many farm households. They are the real sufferers in this area, people can visit the country, many sites, towns and cities but, unfortunately, there are still major restrictions in the farmhouse holiday sector.

The question of whether tourists are welcome was raised here. The tourism industry has spelt out that they are; no one ever said they were not. Ireland has been known for many years as the country of the welcomes. However, it was said that there were restrictions in certain regions. There is only one restricted region in the Republic and the problem has been well contained within it. Special attention must be paid to that region at a later date by the Minister and his Department. The Minister has already offered assistance to the people affected in the Cooley peninsula. They are severely restricted and will incur substantial losses.

The Minister is involved with the expert group established by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, which is doing an excellent job. It has taken the right decisions to date and will continue to do so in the interests of tourism and farming.

The rumours reported in today's newspaper about movements of livestock in the restricted area are a cause for concern. While they may only be rumours, the Garda must ensure there is no movement of stock unless people have a permit. That has been spelled out clearly by the Department. We want to see more action on the part of the Garda to ensure illegal movement does not take place. People should have no problem obtaining a permit. If they must move livestock to the factory or wherever, they only have to apply to their district veterinary office or Teagasc office and the permit will be granted within minutes. No one should move stock without a permit because it can cause a great deal of damage to Ireland and we may regret it later.

The rugby and soccer organisations and the GAA must be complimented because they were dealt a severe blow in having to cancel many important matches. I attended a few GAA matches last weekend and I compliment the organisation on taking every precaution laid down by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

We must talk up tourism and promote centres for tourism and areas and sites which are open. There were many complaints about the inconvenience caused by some sites being closed and signposting not being that wonderful, with the result that busloads of people arrived only to discover there was no access. That was an inconvenience to tourists trying to visit certain sites. The tourism bodies have dealt with that initial problem. We must ensure that sites which are still shut are signposted as such well in advance in major towns so that people do not travel long distances to discover there is no access to them, something which can be embarrassing to tour operators and inconvenient for those travelling.

On the Minister's ten point plan, the high level action group is welcome, as are the development of the website by Bord Fáilte and special tourism promotions. The Minister mentioned a figure of £3 million.

It is £3 million to start up.

That is the right money being put in the right place at the right time, and we will witness the benefits later this year. If we work together, with the assistance of the bodies the Minister announced and of the banks who will come to the aid of hard-pressed people, we will have a better and stronger tourism organisation with its different components working together. If foot and mouth disease does one thing, it will bring together all tourism bodies and the different strands of tourism to work as one group for the development of Ireland.

We did not realise for many years the huge benefit of tourism but we know it now. I live in a town on the Shannon which benefits from the tremendous spin-off from tourism. Once there were only a few boats on the Shannon. Now, during the season, it is better than any industry. That is what is involved. It is not an industry working 12 months of the year but a tremendous seasonal industry comprising boating holidays on the Shannon. It must be developed and promoted. I compliment the Minister and his predecessors on ensuring moneys were spent on the waterways to ensure thousands came to Ireland to enjoy the scenery and the hospitality of the people along the rivers and canals. When the foot and mouth crisis is over, and I hope the worst is past, we will see a much better and stronger tourism industry.

I wish to share my time with Senator Henry.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister and express my appreciation to the Leader of the House for arranging the debate. When I requested it two weeks ago, I was reminded of what happened to my father's business in 1972 when Bloody Sunday occurred, followed by the burning of the British Embassy. My father's business never opened again. He had a holiday camp in Skerries and the guests came from Britain. I recognise the huge impact on those in the tourism business of one event such as this which can cause the closure of something that has been successful for many years.

We were right to react in the way we did when the first threat of foot and mouth disease occurred some time ago. The experience in Britain, where the reaction was always behind the crisis, demonstrates the vital importance of getting ahead of the disease if it is to be conquered and controlled effectively. The first move in closing the country down was the correct thing to do. It was not an overreaction as some suggest now. Had we not acted decisively in the beginning, we would now face a much worse situation. That said, it is unrealistic to expect to keep a country locked down for an indefinite period. Apart from its impact on tourism, which is the focus of the debate, a country cannot be expected to give up its normal way of doing business for six months. That is why the appointment by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development of the expert group referred to was a step in the right direction.

However, it is important we recognise the group for what it is – a group of agricultural experts appointed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to advise on technical matters related to agriculture. That group cannot be expected to give advice other than on agricultural grounds or to balance agricultural interests against others, such as those of the wider economy, especially those of the tourism industry. The Minister gave some interesting figures, such as 150,000 in employment, double that of ten years ago, and a threefold increase in foreign earnings in ten years.

I suspect we are treating this outbreak not dissimilarly from the way we treated the previous one in 1967. However, in the intervening years dramatic changes have taken place in our economy. In 1967, agriculture was more important to the economy than tourism. Now the reverse is the case or close to it, and I wonder whether our handling of this crisis reflects that change. Agriculture is still centrally important to the economy. It is even more so when one considers agriculture and food as a single sector. No matter how much things shift, it will still remain very important. I cannot envisage a future in which agriculture here would decline to the essentially minor role it plays in the British economy. What is different is that today agriculture is not the only or even the main motor of our economy. It is one of several players, all of which are important and all of which deserve our support at a time of threat or crisis.

Tourism shares two characteristics with agriculture. The first is that it has a high multiplier effect within the economy. As an industry it uses almost no imported goods and spending on tourism ripples quickly out to affect the whole economy. Because of this multiplier effect, it is as important as agriculture. It is even bigger than the statistics relating to it suggest. The second characteristic is that much tourism depends on the countryside. Many people come to Ireland for sightseeing – I saw dozens of people on Portmarnock beach today, posing no threat to agriculture. Others come to engage in activity holidays in the countryside. Despite the growth of many urban attractions in recent years, our tourism product is essentially a rural one. As such it has to share space with agriculture. This is why it is so affected by the foot and mouth epidemic. Note that I say tourism has to share space in the countryside with agriculture. Tourism does not invade space that belongs to agriculture by right. Present day reality is that both agriculture and tourism are major economic forces that need the countryside to survive. Neither has rights over the other. Both forces need to be considered as interests which must be given consideration and the implications of this are obvious.

In the interests of the total economy we must be ready to take some risks, risks that we would not take if we were to consider the interests of agriculture alone. At the beginning we sacrificed everything by closing down the economy, by closing down the country, so as to keep the disease out and reduce its impact if it got in, as it did in County Louth. Now that that has been achieved, we need a more flexible approach to the future. Let me put it this way. If the price of controlling foot and mouth is to be the loss of £1 billion in tourism – the Minister has talked about £0.5 billion – the loss of perhaps 20,000 jobs in tourism related activities and the collapse of hundreds of small businesses that are dependent on tourism in all parts of the country, that price is too high. However, we can manage this crisis in a way such that the price will not be anything like that. It is vital that we shift the focus of our policy so as to express the same concern and the same solidarity for the tourism industry as we have, rightly, in regard to agriculture.

I welcome the Minister's ten specific actions – they are not just thoughts but actions. With this in mind, I have three practical suggestions. The first is that the management of the crisis should be seen to be carried out from a national rather than just an agricultural perspective. This is not just a matter of cosmetics. Many people in the tourism industry believe that agriculture is calling all the shots and that their interests are not considered when decisions are taken. I know there is a Cabinet committee dealing with the issue, but it does not convey the impression of taking the wider national interest that is called for in this case.

My second suggestion builds on something I said when we discussed this issue prior to St. Patrick's Day. I am concerned about the impression being given to the outside world about the nature of this crisis. Many people, especially in America, believe we are suffering from a food and food safety crisis. I spoke to somebody from America on the telephone who asked me whether everything was okay over here. They do not understand the situation.

My third suggestion is that we should refine the official message that goes outside the country so that people are not led, in good faith, to make this situation worse. The Minister has touched on this and I recognise what he is doing. At the beginning of the crisis the message was simple. People were asked to stop whatever they were doing, to put off whatever they were planning. This was a necessary and useful approach at the time, but it has become counterproductive. I read a statement from the IMI, which the Minister has criticised, to the effect that it cancelled early because doing so would cost only £35,000 whereas cancelling at the last minute would have cost £350,000. That is an illustration of the need for flexible thinking. I am sure the people in Killarney would have been prepared to take the higher risk rather than completely forego high-profile business which was so important to the town at the start of the tourism season.

There is much that can be done. A number of bands came here for the St. Patrick's Day parade, which was postponed – Senator Caffrey used the word "cancelled" but I say the St. Patrick's Day parade and festival were postponed. The bands came and paraded, unpublicised. The Minister and the Taoiseach went to Leopardstown racecourse to see them. There was no threat to agri culture. The bands enjoyed it, particularly the high school bands. I met them too. This is a reminder that we can still run the tourism business without threatening agriculture. The message that goes out should be that for the sake of the country we should try to carry on business as normal except where the risks of doing so are clearly too high.

That brings me back to the St. Patrick's festival. I am chairman of the St. Patrick's festival and we will have to make a decision whenever we can. We have the choice of deciding to hold it very early . That choice would be welcomed by some parts of the tourism industry. I know the Minister would welcome mid-May because it would start the tourism season early. Others in the tourism business would like it to be held on Bloomsday, which is in the middle of June, but it is a national event and therefore the festival would be much more likely to get publicity around the world and be seen for what it is. That suggestion too is valid and that is part of what we are talking about.

The St. Patrick's festival is only postponed. We have a decision to make. The earliest we can make it is 17 April, if the expert committee gives the all clear at that stage. Let us make it an occasion to celebrate success in dealing with this threat to the economy. We will succeed in overcoming the threat to agriculture. With the right attitude and the right actions – the Minister is moving in the right direction – we will also overcome a great deal of the threat to tourism. I welcome the Minister and I particularly welcome his actions.

I thank Senator Quinn for sharing his time with me. I welcome the Minister to the House. I have the greatest sympathy for him and for the tourism industry. A huge amount of work has been done in this area by the Minister and by all who are involved in tourism, and it has been rewarded. Now events outside their capability to deal with have dealt a terrible blow to the industry. I have been contacted by tour guides, people who run small bed and breakfast premises, people who have had major conferences cancelled and so on. This has been a devastating blow. Worse still, it will affect not just this year. People who have had the habit of coming here may break it and not come in other years. We should, therefore, look at promoting tourism not only this year but also in years to come.

Appeals have been made to the Minister to do something in the financial area, for example, to get the banks to be lenient towards people who may be behind with payments. I would like to see much more being done. In the past, during the fuel crisis, we gave vouchers to tourists who came here. I remember going to Italy once when there was a problem there and receiving vouchers towards the cost of petrol. The Minister has encouraged people to holiday at home. Why can we not give people vouchers to go on holiday at home rather than giving them relief on rates or delayed VAT or PRSI payments?

It must be remembered that in the long run the taxpayer will have to pay for this. I would much prefer to see people receiving £50 towards a weekend or £100 towards a week's holiday, depending on how many members of the family were going. Such a Government voucher scheme, particularly for areas that have been hardest hit, could also be publicised abroad. Nothing appeals to people more than receiving some money and it would encourage them to spend it in such areas. Who will know about it if we grant rates relief? There may be a delayed payment system for PRSI but what taxpayer will know about it? All they will know is that their money has been spent on something, whereas if they had a £100 voucher to go anywhere in the country they may choose to use it rather than going to the Canaries. The Minister should consider introducing such a voucher system.

Senator Quinn made a good point about celebrating the St. Patrick's Day activities, when they are eventually held, and it is important that a huge national effort should go into doing so. Perhaps we should consider rescheduling the St. Patrick's Day celebrations later in the year when the weather conditions are better. In July one year I was on holiday in a small village in Italy where a statue of the local saint was being brought around on a plinth. Money was pinned to the saint's dress as she was being paraded through the streets. Some of the locals told me that the parade used to be held in November when there were no tourists, so the saint's day was changed to July and since then it has been a great success. Perhaps we should consider rescheduling St. Patrick's Day to a more favourable climatic period.

I will ask the cardinal.

We will have a run at it this year to see how it goes, and we might try it next year also.

I would advise farming organisations that are objecting to the tagging of animals to be very careful because many people have suffered huge financial losses. If the farmers do not like ear tagging why can they not use electronic boluses which lambs can swallow? Some boluses may come out but 99% of them remain in the animals. Why do we not consider this method if ear tags are prone to falling off? I know that boluses are expensive but if they are used on a large scale they would be cheaper. The farming community may end up having suffered far less financially than a large number of people involved in the tourism sector. Farmers may not like tagging but they would be wise to take it on the chin, or the ear. They should not make too many complaints because those who have been so good in this horrible national crisis might feel they are being let down by those with whom they have to work cheek by jowl in the tourism and agriculture industries.

I wish to share time with my colleague Senator Chambers.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am glad of the opportunity to debate tourism in the context of the foot and mouth outbreak in the United Kingdom and the case here which was most unfortunate. I compliment the Taoiseach, his Cabinet colleagues, including the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, and his departmental officials for their work in this regard. The farming and non-farming community also deserve our compliments for having co-operated fully in trying to prevent the spread of this disease. To date, they have done a tremendous job and I compliment them for that, even though people were critical because they did not move fast enough. Some people thought the restrictions that were introduced were too severe, but the Government has acted to prevent the disease spreading and it has been successful.

One cannot eradicate foot and mouth disease without having an all Ireland, an all island, agreement. Our friends in the northern part of this country have seen the damage that can be done through the unauthorised cross-Border transportation of animals, but they have also seen the benefits that can be achieved through cross-Border co-operation. This is a step in the right direction for the future.

I am from a highly developed tourism county and have been involved in the tourism business from my early days. We started the Ballybunion bachelor festival which on one occasion was rescheduled from June to July to try to extend the season, which it succeeded in doing.

The season never closes down there.

We wanted to extend the season through the months of June, July, August and September. People in the west are now talking about the financial losses they have already incurred since the crisis arose, so I am glad that the season now extends to ten, 11 or even 12 months in places. In Killarney, we succeeded in extending the tourism season from five to eight months. It is taking it a bit too far, however, for people to claim that their businesses are ruined. We are now entering the tourism season and I am delighted to hear that the Minister is already removing some of the restrictions. He is being cautious about the matter, however, and rightly so.

For St. Patrick's Day I visited the United States where most of my family live. I was most concerned, however, to see the publicity there about foot and mouth being rampant all over Ireland. They lumped us in with the United Kingdom but they failed to realise that while we had only one case, the UK had 490 cases at the time. According to the publicity in America, one cannot eat food here because of foot and mouth disease. The Minister should make it clear that our food is perfectly safe and that 95% of the food we produce is exported as a high quality product. It is something we have worked hard to achieve over the years. The Government is concerned about the outbreak of foot and mouth disease because it wants to protect the food industry.

The decision to cancel race meetings and football matches was criticised, but the public must be complimented for co-operating with the restrictions. A tremendous spirit was demonstrated by everyone, but now we can open up again. I am sure that people would co-operate in the same way if there was a similar crisis in another sector in order to protect the national image. Mr. Denis Brosnan of the Kerry Group, who is also chairman of the Racing Board, was quick to support the suspension of race meetings, including Cheltenham. The Government acted immediately to protect the food industry, and it is great to see that happening. Whether the opportunity arises in the United States, Europe, Australia or elsewhere, we must get the message across that our beef, fish, poultry and other food is of top quality.

Since taking office, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, has not only expanded the tourism business in established markets but also in countries such as Japan, China and other areas in which there are enormous benefits for Ireland. I remember a time when one could not get a job in this country and now we are trying to recruit people abroad to work in the tourism business here. That is a tremendous turnaround and I welcome it. The world is vast and all we have to do is continue to push in the right direction but we must make sure that the quality of our food meets the highest standards, and that we uphold those standards.

I join in the words of welcome to the Minister who made an interesting contribution in relation to his commitment to the tourism industry and the work done by him and his Department in dealing with the crisis affecting the country.

I compliment the Minister because this year saw the greatest investment in the marketing structure of the country. Under the national development plan, the Government spent something in the order of £100 million promoting the tourism sector. That was a major commitment in what was one of the best years in tourism, looking at the whole economic climate. When that investment was made there was not a similar downturn in the American economy but it showed a firm commitment to the continuation of the investment in the marketing and promotion of Ireland as a tourist destination.

We have to deal with the situation as we find it and events change rapidly. The foot and mouth disease issue has brought about major and quick change, and compliments must be given to the Government, the Ministers concerned and the high level committees, be it in agriculture or tourism, that are dealing with their sectors on a day to day basis.

Some valid suggestions were made in the debate. I welcome the nine changes the Minister has made which are necessary in focusing on Ireland as an open destination for tourists. In terms of putting in investment and getting people to holiday in Ireland this year, I do not know whether there would be restrictions on that at European level or in the marketplace but it is a worthy consideration and might help. Such investment may help to encourage more people to spend money in Ireland rather than on other attractions abroad.

In terms of the postponement of the St. Patrick's Day festival, it was interesting to note that a substantial volume of business in the tourism sector, including restaurants, was done in most towns. It may have been somewhat reduced but there was a good basis for business which pertains despite the fact that the country has responded to the seriousness of the foot and mouth disease threat.

It is important that the clear message is sent out internationally, and it has come across in the debate, that Ireland is open to tourism and offers good quality at reasonable prices. I welcome the marketing incentives introduced by the Minister but in the context of our responsibility to the State, we have to be careful in terms of the people who visit here from England. We have to recognise that there is a serious situation in England which is pertinent to our economic survival. However, we should take credit for the fact that, with the exception of Louth, we have managed to keep our country free of this disease to a great extent.

There should be focused incentives and greater marketing. If incentives are to be considered by local authorities in relation to some businesses, we should examine this issue in the context of the full year because, as the Minister is aware, there are areas of the country where there has been major investment in tourism due to previous tax incentives. While many people benefit from tax incentives, they need a strong throughput to pay the liabilities and upkeep of those major investments, particularly in rural Ireland. There may be a need to examine that area depending on the way the situation develops and whether this problem continues throughout the summer.

I welcome the Minister's response to this crisis. I hope we can maintain the current position and manage the foot and mouth disease issue in the future. With focused attention, we can ride out this crisis and hold together a strong industry that is very important to our economy.

I wish to share time with Senator Coghlan. I join with the other speakers in welcoming the Minister to the House for this important discussion. I compliment the Leader of the House for allowing this type of discussion on a weekly basis. That is important at a time when the country is going through a national crisis. The country has reacted in a responsible way. The people involved in every industry, whether it is tourism, agriculture or whatever, are to be commended for the way they have responded. A discussion like this is welcome in Seanad Éireann because it shows that we will do all we can to help out our respective communities.

Before I deal with the tourism aspects, I want to raise a number of urgent issues affecting rural communities on an ongoing basis which I would like the Minister to relate to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. I come from a predominantly agricultural county and over the past few days people have brought these issues to my attention. I ask the Minister to give the message to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development that in our county in particular, a county that is noted for producing many store cattle, there is a major problem in relation to movement. People are in severe financial difficulty because they cannot sell the cattle they would have earmarked for sale at this time of the year. Some sort of movement between farms should be arranged through Teagasc. That is a reasonable request and I ask the Minister to consider raising that matter with the specialist group in terms of examining hardship cases in particular.

I acknowledge that the movement permits currently in place are working reasonably well under the circumstances. Permits, by their very nature, are difficult to operate, particularly with large numbers of cattle, and in fairness to the departmental officials, they are working extremely well. I am not asking for wholesale movement across the country but some relaxation in terms of movement. I ask the Minister to bring that matter to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Walsh.

In relation to the response from the Minister's own Department, which is what we are discussing this afternoon, there is no doubt that the tourism industry will be more affected by this outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It is only in the past few years that we have recognised the potential of the tourism industry. The growth in the industry has been huge. A figure of 150,000 employees has been quoted today, indicating that it is a huge industry by any standards. What makes matters more difficult is that most of the businesses were started only in recent years. Whether they are private or community-based, they have been very successful, but the initial stages of their development coincide with meeting their bank borrowings, putting more and more pressure on them.

That there is already a 20% drop in air travel and an approximately 30% drop in sea travel is an indicator that we are facing an extremely diffi cult summer season. Only yesterday at our county council meeting in south Tipperary we had an address by the regional director of SERTA, Mr. Joe Palmer. When it was proposed that he come to tell our council about the tourism potential of the whole south-eastern region, there was no talk of foot and mouth disease. It was the last thing on anyone's mind. We asked for a presentation to demonstrate to our members the phenomenal growth in tourism in our part of the country. We did not do what counties such as Kerry, Galway and Donegal did. They pushed tourism for many years and have derived great rewards from this, but it is only in recent years that we have actually seen the potential for growth in the tourism industry. For years, we did not exploit the Rock of Cashel, the potential of Tipperary town, the Glen of Aherlow and other beautiful parts of our county. Only recently did we invest heavily in tourism. That is the reason that we have to be more concerned. There are many loan repayments to be made.

Local authorities should be helped by the Department of the Environment and Local Government, particularly in counties like Tipperary, to give rate remissions to some of the businesses that are affected. The director of South Eastern Regional Tourism spoke yesterday about the impact of the current crisis and I ask the Minister that the Government make this one gesture with regard to the remission of rates. That would help greatly in my part of the country, an area to which the Minister might be coming shortly.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank him for his contribution, which unfortunately I did not hear, but I skimmed through some of his script. We appreciate everything that has been done to protect the country from foot and mouth disease and, in particular, to keep it confined to one small portion of County Louth. I congratulate the Department of Agriculture on its comprehensive procedures at all ports, airports, bus and rail stations. I welcome very much the announcement that counties Louth and Wexford have received the all-clear. I know the incubation period can be anything up to 20 days and that we have to be hopeful over the next two weeks that we get over the line.

It would be very helpful if we could have a continuous flow of precise information on what has been done, on what is allowed and what is not in relation to buses, cars, cyclists, walkers etc. For instance, are leisure walkers allowed to walk on public roads? I do not think there should be anything to stop them. It is vitally important that the tourism industry and other export interests have access to the review group of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development so the controls in place are justified and people clearly understand what relaxations are allowed.

I know the precautions being taken are reviewed on a daily basis and I am not arguing against ongoing vigilance, but at the moment vis itors to Killarney and County Kerry cannot walk in the mountains, boat on the lakes or visit the woods, and many people in Kerry think we are telling the visitors to go home and that they are not wanted. We have to arrest and correct that. Tourism is hurting very badly at the moment and, in order to counteract foreign media coverage that gives the impression that foot and mouth disease is rampant here, the industry needs a very well-resourced public and private promotional campaign to emphasise that the country is largely disease-free. We have the cleanest environment in the developed world and our food is quite safe.

If we are to rescue this year's season, some key tourist attractions need to be reopened quickly. There is no rational reason why Muckross House and the immediate precincts, including the walled garden, could not be reopened immediately. I would suggest the same in respect of Ross Castle, Garnish Island and Derrynane House. There is no reason why the waterbuses cannot ply on the lakes of Killarney. They are not going to be able to land anywhere around the shoreline – they depart from and return to a designated spot at Ross Castle. Other boats could ply to and from Ross Castle. If these key visitor sites are not open before Easter, we could wipe up to 50% off tourism income in Killarney and the rest of County Kerry this year.

There is an urgent need for the Minister and Bord Fáilte to spearhead a major promotional campaign aimed at visitors, buyers of Irish food and other exports to emphasise that we have the cleanest environment in the developed world, and we are determined to keep it that way. I know the Minister means well and I wish him well. I had the opportunity of having a few words with him earlier and I wanted to be in the House for his speech, but I was called to a committee.

I am delighted to hear that we are not writing off our nearest neighbour, Britain, which has meant so much to us. We have had almost no response from them recently but this may be understandable. I know we have a major selling job to do in the USA and I am delighted to hear the Minister is going to tackle that and that he is spearheading an operation in Britain. I wish the Minister every success in this vitally important task. Hopefully in two weeks' time, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, and the rest of us will be delighted that we are free of the disease and beyond the incubation period. However, we have to be selling now. As the Minister knows, it is passed the time when bookings and so on should be made.

There is no reason why the Irish Management Institute conference in Killarney should have been cancelled. We were shooting ourselves in the foot. It would have involved people – 'suits', if I may say so – coming largely from Dublin, with nobody going to or from farms, trains and cars being sprayed and disinfectant mats all over the place. We have to give leadership on this and I appeal to the Minister to use his good offices to reschedule it. My home town has always looked forward to hosting that conference and, sadly, that is now the sixth or seventh conference we have lost.

It is the most boring conference held in the western world. What is Senator Coghlan worried about?

The point is that Senator Ross and I do not have to attend it. I am just concerned about bums on seats, the beds and bringing people to it.

It should be called bum and neck disease, not foot and mouth disease.

The Minister takes my point and I thank him.

After all that levity, I welcome the Minister to the House and salute him and his colleagues for the fast and effective action they have taken in dealing with this crisis that has beset us in recent weeks. This is the first opportunity I have had to address the foot and mouth issue in the House. I pay particular tribute to the Minister, Deputy Walsh, and the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Davern, for the outstanding work they have done together with their officials in addressing the challenge of the foot and mouth issue. Leadership and statesmanship are two qualities that could be attributed in ample proportions to the Minister, Deputy Walsh, in the way in which he has handled the matter. As we watch the incidence of the disease in Britain rise inexorably towards the 1,000 mark, even the most cynical observers here are willing to give credit to the Minister and his officials for a job that has so far been exceedingly well done.

The initial reaction to the outbreak in Meigh was, I believe, correct. The shutdown of operations has resulted in our being able to contain the disease thus far. However, while that was the appropriate reaction at that time, the need to sustain the wider economy and the tourism industry in particular means that an ongoing response is required. While recent statements by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, that an escalation of the incidence of the disease here would be devastating for the entire economy, including the tourism sector, are valid, there is a realisation that while maintaining an emphasis on the precautions that must be taken to prevent any spread of foot and mouth disease, we must proceed to a new phase in our response which must involve heavy emphasis on redressing the unavoidable damage done to the £3 billion tourism sector to date.

No one in the House today is any less concerned about the welfare of the 150,000 people working in our second largest industry than they are about those working in the agri-sector or any other sector of the economy. To this end, I con gratulate the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, on establishing the high level tourism action group which, working with the Minister and his Department, has devised a focused response to the difficulties the industry is currently experiencing. The Minister outlined that response in substantial detail in his contribution.

As a farmer, I thank those working in the tourism industry for the manner in which they have generously participated in the nationwide campaign to combat this disease. The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation – ITIC – has been true to its motto "Leading our tourist industry" in that it has provided the industry with sound leadership in this crisis. I welcome the confederation's involvement in the high level tourist action group.

It must be acknowledged that there are structures in place to ensure that the voice of the tourism sector is heard when decisions are being made about control measures. Our difficulty at present is one of international perception. The message has gone abroad to certain quarters that Ireland of the welcomes is no longer open for business. It must be stated that there is a degree of confusion on the part of some potential visitors regarding the difference between what is happening in Britain and what is happening here. Etched in the minds of many tourists are the Sky News and CNN images of huge smoking pyres of animal carcases in Britain. We have a job to do in terms of putting across the message that, thus far, the disease has been strictly contained in this country.

As we celebrated record numbers of visitors to Ireland at the end of the year 2000 – 6.4 million people, representing an increase of almost 6% on the 1999 figure – little did anyone contemplate the enormity of the challenge we would face in 2001. It is fortunate that a feature of the industry's plans for the year 2001 was a record spend on marketing, in the order of £100 million of which 35% is provided by the Exchequer. We must welcome the Minister's announcement that £3 million will be made available for a campaign of reassurance. What we need now is an aggressive marketing and promotional plan that will counteract the misconceptions and misinformation that have taken hold in some of our overseas markets. I am sure our competitors in the marketplace are not unhappy that the position which obtains here has, in some instances, been misunderstood.

We must re-emphasise that visitors from urban areas in Britain are welcome here. The recommencement of some sporting activities, the re-opening of State heritage and cultural attractions and the reconvening of conferences means that the vast bulk of the tourism package is again available to be enjoyed, subject to proper precautions being taken. I visited the Bord Fáilte website during the past 24 hours and I was pleased to note that its information is up to date. The website places a heavy emphasis on the fact that many activities are again taking place and that a multiplicity of sites can again be visited, while at all times mentioning the necessary precautions that must be taken. Bord Fáilte has long enjoyed major success in promoting this country abroad and its experience and expertise in the marketplace is more important now than, perhaps, ever before. I am certain that all the resources necessary to mount an international campaign of reassurance will be provided. It is worth stressing that reassurance is all that most of our potential visitors require at this point.

At home, people can play their own part in supporting the industry. In my opinion there would be widespread public support for a holiday at home campaign. Having seen the manner in which members of the public have rallied to the cause of preventing the spread of the disease, there is sufficient concern and goodwill to create a groundswell of support for the industry. There could be no more powerful or effective medium than the Irish people themselves, through their international network of contacts, sending out the message that, as far as tourism is concerned, all is well in Ireland.

For many years there has been discussion about the urban-rural divide. A great deal has been said and written recently about a perceived decline in volunteerism and civic spiritedness. In stark contrast to this, and with the exception of a small cohort of ruthless smugglers who have shown a callous disregard for the well-being of the entire country, the Irish people have responded magnificently to the challenge of combating this destructive virus. That spirit can and will be harnessed in support of our tourism industry. There is no doubt that the sector has experienced difficulties in recent weeks but the industry has for many years demonstrated a great resilience and a capacity to meet new challenges. If, working together, we can continue to withstand the foot and mouth threat, the opportunity will exist to work our way out of our current difficulties and to seek to recover lost ground in the latter part of the year. It is highly significant to note that in the past three months of the year 2000, 1.3 million people visited these shores. That is astounding.

I thank the Minister for his dedicated work on behalf of the industry. I am confident that, with continued co-operation and prudent management of the situation, we can make 2001 another successful year for the tourism industry.

I wish to share time with Senator Ross.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister who has undergone somewhat of a baptism of fire in relation to this matter. I do not envy him. I am not sure if the House is aware of the latest news, namely, that the tests from Cooley have proved to be negative. I just heard a report about this wonderful development on the radio and I con gratulate everyone involved. This news will give us the impetus to continue with the responsible attitude we have taken to this matter. Unfortunately, our neighbours have not taken such an attitude.

As the Minister stated, this is a heartbreaking and tragic situation. I listened to grown farmers from the Cooley peninsula who were in tears on the radio. One man in particular said he had a blind sheep which had been fostered in his kitchen and which he had carried in his arms to be slaughtered. He also stated that he found a lamb that had been left behind and he was obliged to literally carry it to the slaughter. The man's voice broke as he recounted his experience, which is an indication of the strength of emotion and feeling people have about this matter. I am glad the farmers of the Cooley display a decent affection towards their animals.

I wish to raise a number of serious issues about the tourism industry. For example, I am sure the Minister is aware that people, particularly those in North America, make no distinction whatever between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Indeed, they make no distinction between Ireland and Britain. In 1982 I was sent to America to take part in a radio and television blitz about the centenary of James Joyce because people there thought bombs were exploding all over the Republic. That, of course, was not the case. We must invest in making it clear that it is safe to come here and that Ireland is, in most respects, open to and welcomes tourists.

I suppose St. Patrick's Day could be shifted. It has already been shifted. I was on a plane in recent days and the KLM in-flight magazine stated that everyone should visit Ireland on 16 March because, as everyone knows, it is St. Patrick's Day. I was not aware of that, I thought it took place on 17 March. Given that it has been shifted by one day, perhaps we could celebrate St. Patrick's Day in a month when better weather obtains. However, if it is intended to celebrate it on Bloomsday we must be careful because there are advantages and disadvantages involved. This should only be done in consultation with the people who organise the Bloomsday festivities so that the two do not cancel each other out. If we are to contemplate celebrating St. Patrick's Day on Bloomsday – the Minister indicated that this is unlikely – it would have to be done in such a way that Joyce and Bloom would be featured on an equal footing with St. Patrick.

One of the steps we can take is to encourage people to take domestic holidays. I do not believe people realise the wonderful value on offer. I do not suppose that what is being stated in this debate will be taken up by the mass media. However, perhaps the Minister and his advisers can take action in this regard. There is stunning value on offer. For example, there are "Hidden Ireland" holidays. I frequently visit Roundwood House near Mountrath. It offers superb food, a beautiful environment, gracious apartments, very reasonable value and the delights of the country side. There many other such establishments. We can spend our money in our own country and, in many circumstances nowadays, the weather aspect can be more or less ignored.

I am in favour of support for the tourism industry. It is an entrepreneurial industry in which people have invested heavily in guesthouses, hotels, etc., and it is heartbreaking to see them empty. Not only are there cancellations but new bookings have virtually dried up. People need to be encouraged and we need to ensure that the infrastructure is still there when this crisis is over. If VAT flexibility or rates relief is required, I am all in favour of that. I was astonished to hear a distinguished academic, Mr. John Horgan, say on the RTÉ programme, "Questions and Answers", last night that people could be compensated out of the profits of the disinfectant industry. That is a classic example of how a person who is outstanding in his own area of expertise can be totally out of focus in terms of reality. The suggestion was utterly impractical.

In terms of what is practical, we need to go beyond mere advertisements and capitalise on such activities as cycling tours. Carefully monitored and professionally guided walking tours should also be promoted in consultation with the farmers concerned and subject to strict disinfection procedures.

I wish the Minister every success in his efforts. Let us continue to exercise the maximum caution, to ensure that we avoid what is happening in England, such as the loss of the Herdwidge sheep flock in the Lake District. Beatrix Potter, that great children's writer, wrote very movingly of the unique traditional features of that flock whose genetically proven ancestral memory dates back to pre-Roman times. The loss of that irreplaceable flock will have serious environmental consequences. The wonderful moorland landscape will revert to a neglected scrubland desert.

I thank Senator Norris for sharing time. I join in the applause for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, his Department, the Government and the Opposition, for their attitude in this crisis. I intend it as a compliment when I say that the Opposition has only exploited the situation to a very limited extent for political purposes. There has been a great national effort because of the possibility of a real crisis and real economic damage. I do not believe, as suggested by the Minister, that the situation has the potential to destroy the economic boom, though it has the potential to do temporary damage. However bad the crisis may be, it is temporary. Foot and mouth disease will go away. That is not to underestimate the problem but rather to avoid being too alarmist about it.

I applaud the Government's courage in saying that there will be no subsidies in relation to this crisis. It is very difficult for governments not to give way to vested interests and lobby groups, especially when there is no shortage of funds. Mistakes were made in previous situations. In the currency crisis of 1993, the Government established what was known as a marketing development fund, which actually became a scam. Industries which did not need help claimed that they were in difficulties and were given money quite unnecessarily. In the present situation, the Government has resisted that pressure and has rightly pointed out that, as a commercial business, tourism need not expect subsidies. That is the correct attitude. Hopefully, the Government will be politically rewarded, in terms of the crisis being a temporary phenomenon.

I welcome the Minister's statement. Much of what he said is aspirational rather than concrete, and that is necessarily the case. However, I criticise his appeal to the banks "to take an enlightened and mature attitude". The banks will take no such attitude and the Government is perfectly well aware of that. As is to be expected, the banks will look at profitable lending opportunities and will only give money to people in trouble if they see them as a good risk, in a temporary situation. They will not indulge themselves, their shareholders or their customers in offering any charity and it would be wrong to expect them to do so. Their attitude will be purely commercial, regardless of any crisis.

I think we may have an opportunity in this situation, though perhaps I have not read the Minister's speech properly—

Or perhaps not read it at all?

I have read it. We have an opportunity to unite with our Northern Ireland brethren and friends on this issue because we have an identical problem and we have had almost identical results in containing it. We have, of course, the Border problem of smuggling and the illicit movement of sheep in what are known as "flying flocks." There is co-operation between thieves on both sides of the Border. I just hope that all this is matched by the authorities on both sides of the Border. It is patently obvious that the Governments, North and South, the tourism interests and any relevant tourism committee and North-South body, have an opportunity to get together on an all island basis to tackle the consequences of this dreaded disease. Tourism is an all-Ireland activity with an all-Ireland benefit. I hope that the Minister has, in fact, conferred with his Northern Ireland counterpart, Sir Reg Empey, on the matter and that the co-operation which the industry deserves is in hands.

This crisis is not the only obstacle to discourage tourists from coming to Ireland. There are other issues and indeed this crisis may camouflage some of them. The raw materials, such as visitor attractions like Glendalough and Killarney national parks, are not necessarily the key factors. The strength or weakness of the currency is a vital issue for foreign visitors in terms of value for their expenditure while in Ireland. To a great extent, that factor is out of our hands. The boom which we have been enjoying is partially currency led. Our weak currency has made it very cheap for people to come to Ireland.

I do not believe that the holiday at home campaign has any chance of success whatsoever. It is an appeal to sentiment which will not work in the world of the Celtic tiger. Was there any contingency plan in readiness for a crisis of this type? In the case of Bord Fáilte, a semi-State body of dubious value, did anybody in that organisation anticipate such a contingency and prepare to launch a marketing campaign aimed at selling the benefits of this country, even in a crisis period?

I welcome the Minister to the House for this important and timely debate. I congratulate him, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and all their Government colleagues for the rapid reaction to foot and mouth disease. This is contrary to what happened across the water. I also congratulate all the people involved to date in ensuring that we limit foot and mouth disease to the two cases on the island.

The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Proleek in County Louth was probably a blessing in disguise in that it refocused our minds on the potential disaster of foot and mouth disease for the entire country. There was no doubt we were becoming complacent about it. I agree with the Minister that the possibility of a widespread outbreak of foot and mouth disease would threaten our economic security and the livelihoods of every section of the community.

Unfortunately, we have been linked with our colleagues across the water. We have a huge job to try to improve the image of Ireland and to portray it as a single entity. I was pleased to hear the Minister say there is co-operation North and South of the Border. Although County Monaghan is not renown for its tourism industry, we have been trying to develop it in the past two or three years. There has been much co-operation across the Border, particularly with County Armagh. However, just as we are developing and promoting a number of rural tourist attractions, particularly short breaks, in North America and Canada, we have been hit by foot and mouth disease. As Armagh is close to Monaghan, we will be doubly affected.

I welcome the Minister's statement that a special tourism marketing and promotion reassurance programme will take effect from this weekend. This is a crisis for the tourism industry, particularly in counties such as Monaghan and Armagh which are not renown for tourism. It will also affect Ireland in the long term in the context of promoting Ireland as a tourist destination. I am not only talking about places such as Killarney, Donegal and Galway, but about other parts of the country which have been untapped to date. We must consider the long-term aspect of this crisis. I welcome the Minister's statement today.

Many calls have been made in recent days for supports for the tourism industry. It is easy to engage in political point scoring, but we must look at it realistically to see where we can draw the line. I have been in contact with a number of businesses which have told me they have noticed a huge reduction in their business. Coffee shops, delicatessens and home and builder providers have noticed a huge slump in their business in the past couple of months. I do not know if this is related to the fears about the American economy, which seems to have a ripple effect on people's confidence across the world, or to foot and mouth disease. The public is concerned about this issue. Where do we draw the line? If people do not stop at the local coffee shop in County Monaghan on their way to Donegal, the coffee shop will lose out in the same way as the people in Donegal who own bed and breakfast accommodation or hotels. I am concerned this could be an administrative nightmare. When we talk about supports, we are talking about money. I would be fearful about adopting such an approach as everyone is affected.

I have received a number of complaints in recent weeks from people involved in the tourism industry about the fact that people should avail of the tourist facilities in our domestic market and that we should encourage them to holiday in local areas. The tourism industry must accept some responsibility in this regard. Two and a half weeks ago, for example, an individual contacted a hotel group through a central reservation line to get information about the type of accommodation on offer. However, they have not received the promotional material in the post to date. We can say everyone should support their local tourism, but the tourism industry and the people most affected by this crisis must take some responsibility and react instantly to requests. They should also be courteous, which is another complaint I have received. I do not like being negative, but it is at times like this that we must appreciate our own people as we will be depending on their money this year. It is not difficult for personnel managers in the tourism industry to teach their staff how to be courteous and to serve the customer. God helps those who help themselves in a crisis. The tourism industry should take a leaf out of its own book and instead of talking the talk, it should walk the walk.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. The foot and mouth crisis is having a knock-on effect on the economy. I welcome the Minister who is concerned about the situation. Many industries and people are affected by this crisis. We must do all we can to ensure that foot and mouth disease is kept out of the country. While farmers will be compensated for their losses, other people are also affected. If this crisis continues, some people, particularly small operators, will go to the wall. Bigger operators will also suffer as profits are reduced and they run the risk of losing business, such as conferences and weddings. However, smaller operators whom I know have not received an income for the past month. They will probably manage for a certain length of time, but guesthouse owners, bed and breakfast operators or small hotels adjacent to a sensitive area will be badly affected. We must look at what can be done for them. l know it is not a simple thing of dishing out grants or compensation. What the Minister said ought to be put into practice.

Tourism is losing the public relations war partly because we are linked to Britain and also because we are so focused on preventing foot and mouth that the hatches are battened down and places are closed. There must be a realistic approach and I welcome the Minister's announcement that some heritage centres will open to tour buses.

It must be possible to open some places with curtailments on access. Railings could be put up and disinfectant mats put down. Visitors could be asked to behave in an orderly manner. Tours, whether to Government buildings or elsewhere, do not have unlimited access but people are kept together in groups. The management of such places ought to be able to arrange things so as to let the public in and not send out the message that they are closed for business.

Despite the national crisis, people making sacrifices and the farming industry uniting, there are still a few rogues who think it is business as usual. They may be farmers, dealers, racketeers, members of unlawful organisations which patriotically wave the Tricolour but do untold damage. The reporter in The Irish Times this morning appears to have the correct facts and the person responding on the radio was vague and admitted there may have been some movement of small numbers of livestock. There should be no movement. Every county has people who look for the extra subsidy or the side deal. Word should go out loudly from this House about zero tolerance of this practice, as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform promised on other matters.

The horse industry is responsible and plays its fair share. Despite an apparent sleight of hand in which the people who head up the industry were not informed at the same time, there is an easing on horse movements. They can now go to Aintree but there is concern that racegoers will travel also. There is a difference between travelling to the rural and urban areas. Horses which travel must not come back for some time.

Life must go on. Tourism must receive every incentive. We must win the PR war in the USA and elsewhere. If curtailments are imposed, they must be realistic. I hope the Minister will take these matters on board, and I welcome the Minister of State here.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Coughlan, to the House.

Many tributes were paid to the Minister, Deputy Walsh, and his staff for their handling of the crisis. However, there was full co-operation from the Opposition, particularly Deputy Dukes who played a tremendous part in supporting the Government during the foot and mouth catastrophe.

I regret that there were no answers to my questions arising from the Minister's ten points. We often feel in the mid-west, and knowing that the Minister comes from Donegal, that we are lost in the debate on tourism which centres on the north-west, Mayo and Galway and Kerry.

In Limerick city we are trying to get some bed nights from visitors en route north and south. The mid-west itself is a large area depending on tourism. It includes Limerick, Clare, north Tipperary, north Kerry and south Offaly. Shannon Development works closely with the Minister. The figures it gave me show that it is losing £60 million, a figure that is being upwardly revised. That is a huge figure.

Reading the Minister's address, I do not accept that the public do not realise the importance of tourism. As a teacher I can say that first years are expected to know that it is our biggest industry after agriculture. People are aware of the impact of foot and mouth disease on tourism. This is particularly so in rural areas where activities such as angling, equestrian holidays and walking tours have been hardest hit. The latter is increasing in popularity as we are one of the few EU countries with unspoilt walking routes. I am concerned because this activity is possibly hardest hit and even with the new guidelines it will be some time before people can walk through the countryside. I refer in the mid-west to the Burren, Slieve Feighlim and Ballyhouran areas which have small players in tourism but for whom tourism is their bread and butter. Farming is peripheral and they depend on tourism to supplement or give them an income.

The figures for the mid-west and of people passing through Shannon on 31 March show that the UK market was up 28% and the US market was up 12%. That is good news up to that date, but what Senators said about foreign perceptions is true. I travel often in the United States to visit my daughter who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. Outside of the cities with Irish connections, like New York and Boston, it is difficult to promote Ireland. Beyond the American mid-west they cannot distinguish our accent from other English speakers. From that context, there is no doubt that we have been labelled as part of the British Isles, which is how many people still see us.

The normal advertisements used to publicise Ireland abroad are not appropriate in the light of the adverse publicity. It will be difficult to come up with an ingenious way of creating advertisements which are not negative. To say people can come here now because the scare is over will not work in the many cases of people who did not know we had a problem. One cannot give a negative message when trying to produce a positive impression. The task force has to get across a message which will focus on the product we offer without giving a negative impression. I do not know how this can be done, but I am sure there are enough intelligent people coming together to advertise positively in the United States. Tourists will still come from the United Kingdom, particularly in the light of the figures I have given. I am glad that urban based activities can be promoted under new guidelines.

I compliment everybody involved in the tourism industry, from the owners of the smallest bed and breakfast or farm guesthouses to the managers of large hotels. They have been extraordinarily co-operative and very patient, without whinging or whining, and have accepted that it would be difficult to compensate them.

In relation to marketing, surely sufficient funding is available to facilitate the aggressive marketing that needs to be done. Sectors like pony-trekking, hill-walking and bed and breakfast particularly need special support, which is a more appropriate term than compensation. We must ensure that they are supported by marketing, as they cannot possibly do it themselves because they have been so badly affected.

We need to encourage domestic holidays, which are currently very expensive. Those moving between hotels, as Senators who have to stay in Dublin tend to do, know how expensive they can be. Unless one is in that milieu, how can one appeal to those unaware of what is on offer? I think that low-cost packaging is undoubtedly the price that must be paid to encourage people to holiday at home. Irish people respond to special offers abroad and only retired people get a good deal at home, and even then they can only avail of it mid-week. Those who need breaks because of the pressures of working extremely hard, often seven days per week, are not being catered for at home. Short breaks at reasonable prices would attract Irish people and encourage them to holiday at home.

I have addressed many of the comments made by the Minister, Deputy McDaid. He spoke of attractively-priced short break packages, which must be prioritised. I hope things will work out. We need to be proactive and positive, and to push ahead to get out of this. We cannot allow ourselves to whinge and whine, but rather we must get everybody together to assess the best ways of promoting what we have. Although enticing tourists from abroad has to be a priority, we must also encourage one another to take domestic holidays.

I would not be as negative as Senator Ross in relation to banks, as I would expect them to play their part from a patriotic perspective. They will be affected indirectly by a downturn in tourism, and they are making sufficient profits, so I see no reason they cannot proactively and positively help people. The banks must give people sufficient space to deal with problems which are already emerging and continue to emerge. I ask them to be as patriotic as everybody else has been since the first negative news broke regarding foot and mouth disease.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Coughlan, to the House and wish her the best of luck in her new portfolio. I thank Senator Cassidy for putting this important matter on today's agenda. Everybody needs to be brought up to date on this issue every week. It was interesting to listen to Senator Quinn speak of his family's business. This crisis could well be a milestone in some people's business, as there are people who will never open their doors again after this episode. I would like to associate myself with the remarks of previous speakers who complimented those who put an enormous effort into containing this dreadful disease. The negative results from tests on animals in the Cooley mountains was the great news we were waiting for, and from which we can go forward.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Coughlan, to discuss this matter with her colleagues, the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Tourism, Sport and Recreation. I believe that we are not properly marketing Ireland in North America. Agencies like the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Bord Fáilte and Bord Bia should make a joint effort in North America, which they have not been doing so far. Such a joint effort should concentrate on bringing American tourists to this island. As things stand, they believe that there is something wrong with our beef and our meat industry and that if they come here they will contract some form of disease, and are put off as a result. We must get over this problem through a joint effort from the bodies I have mentioned to market this country as a safe place to come to and to eat meat.

Many Americans confuse foot and mouth disease with BSE, which is something the market needs to get over. I was in the United States for St. Patrick's Day and on numerous occasions encountered such an attitude. Many Americans are put off coming to Ireland because they are afraid of contracting some form of disease from being in the country or from eating beef or lamb.

Certain people in the tourism industry, for example, those who own restaurants or small hotels, have gone through a horrendous few months. I come from an area where the tourism is very important. There are a number of small hotels along the shores of Lough Conn and Lough Cullen in Pontoon, one of which has not yet opened and the other of which was about to close. This is the height of the fishing season, which is very important to those whose income depends solely on people staying in their hotels and spending money in their restaurants and bars. This has been a dreadful time for those enterprises which have had to choose between opening for business and paying staff or staying closed. The losses incurred in recent months will never be redeemed. The Government should intervene via the local authorities to provide some kind of assistance, perhaps rates remittance, to small hotels and restaurants which have high operating costs. Such businesses are enormous assets to rural areas and if they do not survive, tourism will be wiped out in these areas.

Fishing is a very important aspect of the tourism industry which, in addition to bringing business to hotels, bed and breakfasts, bars and restaurants, involves people hiring out boats, equipment, ghillies etc. If the Government does not assist such enterprises, this may be a crisis from which people will never recover. I commend the Government on some of the initiatives it has taken to address this crisis. It has been very vigilant in its actions as have the Garda, customs and excise officers, farmers, tourism operators and members of the public.

I was disappointed by the cancellation of the conference in Killarney as it could have provided an incentive for similar events to proceed. The American market is very important to us and a joint effort is required on the part of Bord Bia, Bord Fáilte and other Irish agencies in North America.

I thank all the Senators who participated in this debate. They clearly appreciate the importance of the tourism and hospitality industry in terms of its economic effect at constituency and national level. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation found it useful to hear Senators' views on the impact of the foot and mouth crisis on the tourism sector.

Everyone agrees that the control measures currently in operation are essential to ensure the disease does not spread any further. We heard the good news this evening that the suspect case in Wexford has been given the all-clear. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development stated that while this news is to be welcomed, we must continue to be vigilant. The measures put in place initially were very restrictive to ensure the disease would not spread as it did in the UK where it has not yet peaked. However, the expert group, under the advice of Professor Monaghan, gradually signalled certain possible modifications to the control measures. These modifications evolve daily.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands was in a position last week to sanction the reopening of 11 sites which are very important to the tourism sector and she is giving consideration to further innovative measures which could facilitate the reopening of the other sites under the Department's aegis. Every effort is being made in the context of the control measures to facilitate this.

A clear message is being conveyed that Ireland is open for business. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation has advised me that advertisements will be placed in British newspapers tomorrow to this effect. Representatives of the industry are working with the Department and Bord Fáilte to convey that message, particularly to the American, UK and European markets. Various innovative marketing strategies will be considered through which people can be assured that there are plenty of activities in which they can engage and that they will be welcomed. If everyone works together, we can hopefully get beyond this impasse and ensure this vital industry is supported. The Minister has provided assurances that the industry will be supported and that funding will be provided to issue a clear message to prospective visitors that they will receive a warm welcome here.

Gabhaim buíochas le gach duine a bhí páirteach sa díospóireacht. Cuirfidh mé gach rud a bhí le rá ag na Seanadóirí in iúl don Aire atá sa Dáil faoi láthair. Cuideoidh an díospóireacht go mór leis an Aire agus leis an Roinn maidir leis an méid atá ag dul ar aghaidh i dtionscal atá an-tábhachtach dúinn.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 April 2001.