National Tourism Development Authority Bill, 2002: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to bring this Bill before the Seanad. I made a major statement on tourism to the House in recent weeks and do not propose to rehearse the same ground in what I have to say today. The Bill is tightly focused and its purpose is to provide a statutory basis for a new national tourism development authority. When the authority is established, Bord Fáilte and CERT will be dissolved and their functions transferred to the new body. The Bill also provides that certain provisions of the Tourist Traffic Acts will be repealed to take account of its provisions.

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world and has been on a continuous growth track for years. That growth was somewhat derailed in 2001 for obvious reasons, but if we can surmount the current period of international political uncertainty, there is every likelihood that global tourism will resume its upward trend. Irish tourism has also performed strongly over the past ten years or so. For much of the 1990s it was one of the best performing tourism sectors in the OECD and a star performer among the northern European tourism destinations. Tourism is now one of our major economic sectors. Recent economic studies suggest that it accounts for approximately 5.4% of annual GNP. It generates approximately €4 billion in foreign earnings and approximately €1.2 billion from domestic tourism. The industry supports approximately one in every 12 jobs in the economy.

Tourism suffered a reversal in 2001 and is now facing considerable challenges. These, together with significant institutional changes arising form the Good Friday Agreement, are driving a reform of the institutional architecture which the State uses to support tourism development. The Bill is a vital part of this reform package.

Before considering the content of the Bill it will be useful to consider the role of the current State agencies dedicated to supporting tourism. Under the Good Friday Agreement, tourism was designated as an area of co-operation. In December 1998 the parties to the Agreement decided that a publicly owned limited company would be established jointly by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, commonly known as NITB, to promote tourism to the island of Ireland. That company, Tourism Ireland Limited, was incorporated in December 2000 and since January this year has taken over responsibility for the international marketing of the island of Ireland as a tourism destination.

In carrying out its international marketing remit Tourism Ireland Limited is undertaking a number of functions previously carried out by Bord Fáilte. These include ownership and management of Tourism Brand Ireland, strategic all-Ireland destination marketing in all markets outside the island of Ireland and responsibility for the entire overseas office network. The new company is also responsible for the international delivery of product and regional marketing programmes on behalf of Bord Fáilte and the NITB while the underlying products will continue to be developed by these two bodies.

Tourism Ireland Limited has a staff of 150. Its head office is located in Dublin and it has a regional office in Coleraine. In addition, it has offices in major overseas markets, such as Britain, France, Germany and the United States. It has a board which is mainly drawn from its founding agencies, Bord Fáilte and the NITB, and the tourism industry, North and South. It was an enormous challenge to launch a new international tourism marketing agency just three months after 11 September, but having observed the new company in action in the six months since my appointment as Minister, I can say it has done a remarkable job in meeting this challenge.

The longest established tourism agency in the country is Bord Fáilte Éireann. Currently, Bord Fáilte has 130 employees and its head office is in Dublin. As Bord Fáilte has been the State's primary tourism agency for decades, the major element of the Tourist Traffic Acts is concerned, in one way or another, with its functions or the functions of its predecessors.

Following the establishment of Tourism Ireland Limited, Bord Fáilte retains responsibility for product development, marketing of domestic tourism on the island of Ireland, research and strategic planning, niche/specialist product marketing and promotions, regional marketing, implementation of specific initiatives such as the sports tourism initiative, statutory functions for the registration/grading of certain tourist accommodation, co-ordination of activities of the regional tourism authorities and tourism and the environment.

These functions may relate to providing a range of supports to the tourism industry, including those concerned with building the business capability of the industry, improving the quality of product which the industry offers and enhancing its competitiveness. The six regional tourism authorities, RTAs, continue to operate under the aegis of Bord Fáilte.

In 1994, there was a major review of the operations of Bord Fáilte. The outcome of that review was a decision that the primary focus of Bord Fáilte should be on international marketing. Matters extraneous to that priority were to receive less attention. The increased focus of Bord Fáilte on international marketing led to greater efficacy in our international tourism marketing which has paid handsome dividends.

One consequence of that refocusing of Bord Fáilte's operations, however, was that a decreasing portion of its staff and resources have been devoted to other areas, for example, product development and the environment. These issues have taken on a greater prominence in recent years with a growing emphasis on competitiveness, quality and standards and the actual reality of the visitor experience. Bord Fáilte needs to focus, once again, on some of those areas to help preserve unique elements of the Irish tourism experience.

CERT Limited is the State's national tourism training agency. It was established, as a company limited by guarantee, by Bord Fáilte in 1963. CERT has some 90 employees and its head office is in Dublin. It has a number of training centres around the country. Currently, CERT provides education, recruitment and training services for the tourism industry. It has broadened its original role of training support for the hotel and catering sectors to include business development support for all tourism and hospitality businesses.

More recently, CERT has moved in the direction of a wider business development role. It helps to build industry capability by focusing on human resource management and improving cost competitiveness.

As far as labour supply is concerned, the focus has been on attracting and retaining school leavers, adults returning to work and skills development for workers. These services are delivered through development, provision and design of a range of education and training programmes, together with innovative delivery methods, to meet the needs of industry.

As far as industry competitiveness is concerned, the focus has been on enhancing productivity and performance, benchmarked against best international practice. Any business experiencing costs and pressure on margins has to look again at the way it is doing things to determine the efficiencies it can introduce into its purchasing, organisation of work, etc. Tourism businesses are not any different. If support is required, CERT has a range of experience and programmes upon which to draw, a process which I hope to see developed by the new authority.

Fundamental changes have occurred in the nature of the tourism industry both globally and in Ireland over the past decade and more. In the context of these changes there has been a growing realisation by the Irish tourism industry that there are other issues which are more important for the industry's future than just visitor numbers. Yield, regional and seasonal distribution and access are key issues on one side of the equation. On the other side of the equation, we have the quality, range and competitiveness of the facilities and products that the tourism industry here offers to its ever more discerning customers.

I have spoken in this House recently on the need for industry to maintain its competitive edge. If it does not do so, it will fail to reap the due reward for the massive investment of public and private funds in the sector over the past 12 years, an investment that some economists put at over €4 billion.

Another ingredient, the key to the successful development of tourism, is the quality and levels of service that the industry has to offer. It makes little sense to invest millions of euro in building state-of-the-art facilities unless the necessary steps are taken to ensure the quality and level of service are in accordance with what the customer wants and consistent with what that customer has been led to expect, or, to put it another way, excellence in the physical design and quality of tourism products and good investment planning must be matched with equally good operational planning and delivery of services. If operational standards do not match the physical quality of facilities, the market potential of these facilities, from both overseas and domestic markets, may not be realised.

In a nutshell, the future success of tourism is dependent on the industry developing and maintaining quality product and quality service which provide good value for money, supported by effective, consumer-led, marketing programmes and the enhancement of its overall business capability.

On this day 12 months ago the Government decided that there was a compelling case for streamlining and integrating the delivery at national level of the State's activities in supporting and promoting product marketing and development, human resource development and training in the tourism industry. It approved the creation of a new body for that purpose to encompass the existing range of functions of CERT and those remaining with Bord Fáilte following the establishment of Tourism Ireland Limited. Setting up this new body means that the tourism industry will be able to avail of support from a strong and well resourced agency which will have a clear mandate to take whatever actions are appropriate to help the industry in its efforts to enhance the quality of its products and services and to do so in a manner designed to help it hold and increase its market share in well defined market areas.

It will be essential that the closest possible links, teamwork and working arrangements are put in place and maintained between the new tourism development agency and Tourism Ireland Limited. Such linkage is critical to keeping the Irish tourism product closely in line with international consumer demand, and Tourism Ireland's marketing strategy and plans. Accordingly, the working and funding arrangements in place at present between Bord Fáilte and Tourism Ireland Limited will be maintained and strengthened.

I have mentioned a number of the key issues facing tourism. While the Bill is not about any of these factors in themselves, it is about putting in place a strong and well resourced body with a clear mandate to take whatever actions are appropriate to ensure these issues are properly and fully addressed. The integration of functions within this new agency should provide a better range of streamlined programmes and services to support the future development of the sector. This new body will be charting the future course of tourism and will build on the existing knowledge, skills and experience within Bord Fáilte and CERT.

I hope, however, that it will do more than this. We do not want a new organisation which just consists of two old organisations lightly tagged together and continuing to do exactly the same old thing in the same old way. We need a new dynamic, a clear vision and an organisational structure to deliver on this. A lot of work has already been done on the mapping out of that structure and vision by a joint Bord Fáilte-CERT group, under independent chairmanship, earlier in the year. I hope the result of all this work and the Bill before us will be a highly effective, highly regarded body for the development of tourism in Ireland in the years ahead.

There has been strong support for the principle of integration of the functions of Bord Fáilte and CERT from the two bodies, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation and the staff trade unions. Building on this support I established an interim board on 4 July this year which is charged with the task of ensuring the new authority can be up and running in time for the 2003 tourist season. It has an independent chairman and includes the chairpersons and some existing members of the board of Bord Fáilte and the council of CERT as well as a departmental representative.

The interim board's arrangements for recruitment and appointment of a candidate to the position of chief executive officer designate are very well advanced. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the interim board to date and look forward to its successful conclusion.

I will now give a brief summary of some of the main provisions of the Bill. This is a tightly focused Bill primarily designed to provide the statutory basis for the new authority. On the establishment of the authority, Bord Fáilte Éireann and CERT Limited will be dissolved and their functions transferred to the new body.

The Bill contains three Parts. Part 1 contains a series of standard provisions regarding title, interpretation, expenses and the laying of orders made by the Minister before each House of the Oireachtas. Provision is also made for the repeal of some provisions of the Tourist Traffic Acts which relate to the corporate governance of Bord Fáilte. This is necessary because the governance provisions of the Bill will obviously replace the old provisions relating to Bord Fáilte.

For clarity, I should point out that CERT Limited, which is a limited company established by Bord Fáilte, is not a statutory body. There are, therefore, no provisions in the Tourist Traffic Acts which pertain to the corporate governance of CERT.

Part 2 is the core of the Bill and contains those provisions necessary for the authority to come into existence and to carry out the functions being ascribed to it. Section 6 allows me to set by order a day for the establishment of the authority. While the official name of the authority is the National Tourism Development Authority, section 7 allows the authority to describe itself as Fáilte Ireland for operational purposes.

Section 8 could be regarded as the key section in the Bill and it describes the authority's functions. The primary functions of the authority will be to encourage, promote and support the development of tourism traffic within and to the State and the development and marketing of tourist facilities and services within the State. Within that overall context, the authority will seek to develop the recruitment, training, education and development of persons to be employed in the tourism sector. The authority will engage in research and planning and may engage in advertising and publicity or provide advice, consultancy services, training or support, including financial support.

The authority will continue to exercise the powers currently exercised by Bord Fáilte relating to the registration and grading of certain types of tourist accommodation. These powers are spelled out in various provisions of the Tourist Traffic Acts which will remain in place. While the Tourist Traffic Acts incorporate the functions and powers in relation to registration, grading and listing of accommodation, they do not prescribe the particular criteria with which a premises has to comply in order to be registered. These are set out in regulations made, from time to time, by Bord Fáilte, with ministerial consent. That process has worked satisfactorily in the past and I propose that it continue under the new authority.

I also propose, as soon as the Statute Law (Restatement) Bill has been passed into law, to arrange with the Attorney General for the restatement of the remaining provisions of the Tourist Traffic Acts. That will create a single source of coherent and easily accessible legislation relating to the registration and grading functions transferring to the authority.

Section 9 is standard and allows me to confer additional functions on the authority. Section 10 gives the authority power to set up companies and to acquire interests in companies. Section 11 allows the authority, either at my direction or with my consent, to delegate certain of its functions and describes the types of body to which functions can be designated. One body specifically mentioned in that context is Tourism Ireland Limited. Tourism Ireland Limited has been constituted as a joint subsidiary of Bord Fáilte and the Northern Irish Tourist Board which is dedicated to the international marketing of the island of Ireland as a tourism destination.

It is timely, given the current challenges facing the peace process, that we insert,via this Bill, the first statutory recognition of Tourism Ireland Limited in the Tourist Traffic Acts. In this context, I understand that tomorrow, the House will be dealing with the British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Bill, 2002. The agreement attached to that Bill has important implications for the functioning of Tourism Ireland Limited, as well as for the various implementation bodies under the British-Irish Agreement. I commend that Bill to the House also.

Section 12 provides that the authority may contract out certain of its registration, grading and inspection functions under the Tourist Traffic Acts and Schedule 2 lists the relevant provisions. This will allow for the continuation of the current practice whereby Bord Fáilte contracts out some of its inspection and grading functions to private contractors.

Section 13 allows me to give general policy directions to the authority as is currently the case with Bord Fáilte. Sections 14 to 22 are standard provisions governing membership and meetings of the authority and conflict of interests and disclosure of information by members or staff of the authority. The authority will consist of a chairman and 12 members. It is important that the authority can establish committees to help in the better performance of it functions and section 23 allows it so to do.

Section 24 is a standard provision which puts a cap on the aggregate level of advances which the authority, from moneys provided by the Oireachtas, can make for the purpose of supporting enterprises and projects relating to the development of tourist traffic and the development and marketing of tourist facilities and services. The cap is set at €65 million.

Section 25 allows the authority to provide financial aid in relation to the carrying out of its functions and to administer EU schemes. Throughout the 1990s, the administration of EU tourism development schemes was a major factor in the work of both Bord Fáilte and CERT. Although their significance has diminished in the current round of Structural Funds, Bord Fáilte is still involved with administering such schemes. It is important, therefore, that we ensure that the authority is empowered to undertake such work.

Sections 27 and 28 contain standard provisions in relation to the submission and auditing of audited accounts and annual reports. Section 29 provides for the application of the Freedom of Information Act to the authority. Section 30 is a standard provision allowing the authority to accept gifts on conditions consistent with its functions. Sections 31 to 33 contain some standard provisions relating to the chief executive of the authority. Section 34 is a standard provision for the appointment and remuneration of staff.

Section 35 provides for the transfer of the existing staff of Bord Fáilte Éireann and CERT Limited to the new authority, on the establishment day, on terms and conditions no less favourable than those to which they were subject immediately beforehand. This provision is designed to give a degree of comfort and security to staff of both organisations who will, naturally, have been subject to a certain degree of anxiety when faced with the prospect of a merger of both organisations. Management or Ministers can give guarantees to staff but from the staff perspective, the legislative guarantee gives the best security of all. When I recently met representatives of the Bord Fáilte and CERT unions I told them I would seek to underpin their position in legislation and I have delivered on that promise. Section 36 is a standard provision governing superannuation.

Part 3 contains standard transitional provisions concerning a range of items, including the dissolution of Bord Fáilte Éireann and CERT Limited, the vesting of property and the automatic transfer of the rights and liabilities of the two organisations to the authority.

Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 list provisions of the Tourist Traffic Acts, 1939 to 1998, that have been repealed, or may be contracted out, as a consequence of the provisions included in the Bill. Finally, I remind the House that I recently launched a process to review Irish tourism policy with a view to generating a new policy framework for the future. The outcome of that review will shape the policy environment for the new authority.

I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to hearing the views of Senators.

I welcome the Minister back to the House. He was correct in saying it is only two weeks since we had a full and frank exchange of views on the position of the tourism industry. During his address that day, the Minister informed us he would bring this Bill before the House as soon as possible and I commend him on his expediency.

I understand the Bill was published on Monday. However, last week when I received a schedule of this week's proceedings, I intended to get a copy of the Bill but was unable to get one. I am sure I speak for the majority of Members when I say I would have preferred to have had the Bill earlier in order to read it and to have had more time to research its contents before expressing my views.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill. The Fine Gael group is broadly in favour of its contents. There are many differing views on how the tourism industry should proceed. It is true that CERT and Bord Fáilte fulfil a distinct role in the industry. As the Minister correctly said, CERT was set up in 1963 as a subsidiary of Bord Fáilte so, in one sense, this is a return to the position which existed in the past. I agree with what the Minister said in regard to Tourism Ireland. In recent months it has shown that it is working well promoting Ireland as a tourist destination. Given the context in which it was set up, that is, as part of the Good Friday Agreement and cross-Border co-operation between North and South, it is important that Tourism Ireland has been a success. It shows how cross-Border initiatives in areas of mutual concern can be beneficial and work from a business perspective.

There are a number of sections in the Bill about which I have concerns. The Minister referred to section 11 which deals with delegating functions. It states that, subject to the Minister's consent or at his or her direction, the authority may delegate certain functions to another body. This is a rather loose formula of words. It is very important that the new body be independent in so far as possible. It would benefit from being cut free to a greater extent from the Department. It would be more appropriate, therefore, if the formula of words used was not as strong as it seems to indicate.

Section 13 allows the Minister to give general policy directions to the authority. It is not appropriate in this day and age that the Minister would have such a wide-ranging role in the functioning of the authority which needs to be allowed to stand on its own two feet. The provision for policy directions from the Minister should not be contained in the Bill.

Section 14 deals with the membership of the authority. In the current climate many questions will be posed as to who the members of the new authority may be. Many will wonder whether it will be the usual suspects, the usual array of party political hacks who tend to inhabit such roles in various State organisations. It is important in this era of greater transparency that there be more transparency in the appointment of members to the authority.

Section 14 also deals with the time-span which members of the authority will serve. It stipulates a term of up to five years. Membership of the board of most Government agencies tends to last for up to three years. It would be more appropriate if the term of office of the members of the authority was reduced to a period of around three years.

Section 35 concerns the transfer of existing staff, a matter about which the Minister has spoken. Inevitably, however, once the two organisations are merged there will be a certain overlap or duplication in administration. I was interested to note that the Minister had discussed the issue with the trade unions concerned. I have spoken to people involved in Tourism Ireland who expressed the view that the development of their authority was hindered by the lack of consultation with the trade unions prior to its establishment. I hope the Minister has learned from this and that he will consult the trade unions affected in both organisations before the new authority is set up.

It is quite possible that many members of staff of the new authority will find that their roles have effectively disappeared once the two authorities merge. This is something at which we need to look. Duplication of roles may necessitate a reduction in the numbers currently employed in certain areas of the administration in both Bord Fáilte and CERT.

The Bill refers, in section 30, to the acceptance of gifts. I am glad to note that this is at the complete discretion of the Minister concerned. I hope there will be no brandy, cigars or whiskey involved in these gifts.

Fine Gael is broadly in agreement with the objectives of the Bill, but it is important that the role of the Minister's office be looked at. I accept that the Minister is a fairly level-headed individual, but there is no guarantee that that situation will continue into the future—

Not for any of us.

There are no guarantees that the Minister, or his successors, will not in the future seek to influence the authority in a way that would be detrimental to its role. It is important that sections 11 and 13 be amended to take account of this. So many people come to this country with a view of what to expect from the tourism industry. They expect the céad míle fáilte, the broad welcome that has been traditional during the years. However, industry currently employs a large number of people who do not come from the country. While I welcome people coming here from all over the world to work in the industry which would not function without them, it would be appropriate that the new body would undertake some sort of orientation course for non-nationals, as well as indeed nationals, to extend to them the idea of the céad míle fáilte. This is something that is missing in large parts of the industry and needs to be addressed by the new authority.

Perhaps the Minister will inform us what impact last week's Estimates will have on funding for the new authority. It is one thing to set up a new authority, but it is another to impose constraints upon the funding available to it. It is very important that sufficient funds are available to it.

The Minister mentioned the issue of competitiveness, of which there has been a distinct lack in the tourism industry in the past couple of years. We have seen huge increases in tourism costs. It would be appropriate at this time for the Minister to have a word with his colleague, the Minister for Finance, to see if he could look favourably upon VAT reform in the upcoming budget to place us on a more level playing field with our European counterparts. The rate of VAT is much lower in many countries.

While I know the Bill does not deal specifically with disability, it is a pet interest of mine, and I would like the Minister to address one issue for me. I received a copy of a disability magazine during the week which quoted Mary Davis, the chief executive officer of the Special Olympics. She said she expected up to 20,000 visitors for this event in 2003. Elsewhere in the article she states, "Carefree Journeys and Holidays – A Guide for the Disabled," which has been published jointly by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board up to now, but has not been updated in this country in over six years and is no longer in print. As an issue particularly close to my heart, it would be appropriate for the new body to look as a matter of urgency at updating this guide for disabled people in the light of the fact that we will host the Special Olympics next year. I ask the Minister to address this matter.

The Bill deals with the quality of the product we provide. The Fine Gael Party has no major issue with what is contained in it. I support it and look forward to Committee Stage when the relevant amendments to the sections I outlined can be made.

I welcome the Minister to the House to take this important legislation, the main purpose of which is to provide a statutory basis for the new National Tourism Development Authority. Upon its establishment, Bord Fáilte and CERT will be dissolved and their functions transferred to the new body. This will mean that one body will be responsible for the promotion of training, human resource and marketing skills development in the tourism industry as well as the other vital tasks and roles currently undertaken by the two bodies concerned.

The remit of the new authority will be to promote tourism within the State and the development of tourism facilities and services, including the promotion of training, human resource and marketing skills development in the tourism sector. With responsibility for international tourism marketing now resting with the new all-Ireland body, Tourism Ireland Limited, the intention is that this new authority, to be known as Fáilte Ireland, will work closely with the tourism industry supporting the further sustainable development of the sector in Ireland. Perhaps one word, "synergy," best sums up the new body. By taking the best from Bord Fáilte and CERT, the National Tourism Development Authority will be able to influence the tourism market through cohesive policy implementation.

While I pay tribute to the excellent work done for many years by Bord Fáilte and CERT, as well as draw notice to the manner in which they co-ordinated such a cohesive approach to the tourism sector, which allowed them to work in tandem with great effect, it goes without saying a single body is surely more able to move in a manner that will benefit the industry as a whole. Merely from a point of implementing policies that will be put in place across the industry, this new system should have a dramatic effect on how we control the industry in the short, medium and long term. Instead of placing the focus on one aspect of the industry, the new body will have scope to implement any changes it foresees as being necessary across the spectrum of the indigenous tourism market. Never has there been a better time to implement this far-sighted approach to the industry.

Up to 2000 the country benefited from ten years of exceptional growth in the tourism industry, peaking with the generation of €4 billion in annual foreign revenue earnings and €1.2 billion in domestic expenditure per year. However, 2001 saw an end to this period of growth due to a number of factors with perhaps the most telling being those outside our direct control – the foot and mouth disease crisis and the incidents of 11 September. This change in fortunes has presented many challenges for the industry, but there may be a small silver lining to its decline – it has allowed us time and space to alter the direction of tourism policy.

This has been another difficult year for the tourism industry. There has been a marked shortening in the booking period for holidays, which has meant that operators have had great difficulty in predicting the level of business they will experience from month to month. While the latest official figures available from the CSO indicate that the first quarter of 2002 saw an increase of 10.3% on the same period last year, there are other points of concern. While the general level of tourism here has been offset by the increase in the British market, which provided a 6% growth in visitor numbers, the numbers of visitors from the United States and mainland Europe, in particular Germany, have dropped.

Some good news emerging in this difficult period has been the ongoing strength of the home tourism market. The most recent figures show that the hotel bed night sales in the market have risen by 15% this year. This surely highlights the importance of the domestic market to the tourism industry. That is the reason the National Tourism Development Authority is such an important addition to the tourism structure. A new strategy needs to be put in place for the future of tourism in order that we can make the most of this great resource in terms of foreign markets and the domestic market. The new structure allows us this opportunity by providing scope to implement change across the industry instead of having to develop a co-operative approach where various aspects would have pulled in the direction that may best suit their particular niche.

A number of problems will face the tourism industry in the near future. There needs to be an increased emphasis on delivering value for money, competitiveness, a high quality of service and a unique experience for the international visitor. The cost of insurance cover in the industry is another example of a threat to its competitiveness. Thus, the value of the service we supply will have to be examined.

While these may be issues for another day, we cannot hope to achieve these changes without the help of a single body which has power to change the tourism industry as a whole. That is exactly what the National Tourism Development Authority will provide. It is for this reason I urge my colleagues to support the Bill as it represents the best way forward for the industry.

I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

That is agreed.

I welcome the Minister. I also welcome the Bill and wish the new agency, Fáilte Ireland, every success. I am delighted to have a chance to speak on the Bill. I come from a hotel business background. Members, therefore, will have a job to stop me talking about this sector, about which I am so enthusiastic. I am also enthusiastic about the commitment of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, to the tourism sector.

The new agency comes at a critical time for tourism, although I do not think its setting up – useful and necessary as it may be – will have much impact. Much more critical to the future will be the strategy review of tourism that the Minister has instituted, in respect of which I wish him the best of luck. I have every confidence that something can happen from it.

The last time we took a root and branch look at the needs of tourism the results were truly spectacular. That occurred in the late 1980s after nearly 20 years of virtual stagnation that dated from the outbreak of the Troubles in the North in the late 1960s. By the late 1980s it was clear that tourism was a tired product that was going nowhere. We saw the writing on the wall, as did those involved in it, but for once did what was necessary at the time. In one of the actions we took we were helped along by Europe, in particular the Commissioner with responsibility for competition at the time, Mr. Peter Sutherland. He forced airline competition onto the European agenda and also introduced competition in other ways. The success of companies such as Ryanair and Easyjet is directly due to the doors he opened for them. He could not have done this without the type of competition he sought to develop.

The arrival of competition in the Irish market, particularly airline competition, meant the removal, virtually overnight, of the largest structural obstacle to tourism – the high cost of getting to Ireland. This meant that Ireland started at a disadvantage as against other countries in Europe, even compared to our next door neighbour, Britain. The success of tourism in the 1990s was firmly based on low cost access. However, I would not hold out the prospect that cheap access could do the same for us any more.

The other major element we got right on the last occasion was the product. We faced up to the fact that compared to other destinations Ireland was quite a boring place to visit in the 1970s and 1980s. There was very little for visitors to do, not only in the evening, but also in daytime and at night. We revitalised the product, which involved a vast amount of work in which we were helped by Europe in the form of the Structural Funds, which we used quite cleverly.

We invested heavily in visitor facilities. We made sightseeing for the general visitor much more meaningful with such things as interpretative centres. The centres get a lot of criticism on occasion but they have made it much more interesting for visitors to come and see the countryside. We developed a very impressive range of facilities for the more specialised market to encourage activity holidays; not just sport but other types of activity holidays. We improved the range of ways in which people could find amusement after dark.

In his previous ministerial appointment, the Minister helped a great deal by listening to the debates on the legislation he introduced. Backing that up was a corresponding investment in hotels and restaurants that matched what they offered to the varying needs of the modern visitor. The result was 15 glorious years and it was no wonder many people thought it would go on forever. Of course it could not last. Long before the twin shocks of last year – the foot and mouth outbreak and September 11 – there were already many signs of overheating in Irish tourism.

All the aspects that are now pointed out, such as the dwindling value for money, the lessening of our traditional welcome, the pressures that come from many visitors on a little island – were all becoming increasingly obvious to anyone watching the industry from the outside. But while the good times continued, nobody wanted to hear.

My father started a holiday camp in 1947 called Red Island, which was in Skerries, in north County Dublin. It was just after the Second World War. There were beds for 500 guests who all came from the north of England: Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and so on. His objective was to get them to come back again and it worked very well. That is the business I grew up in. I would love to think his success was due to my eight year old self, backing him up but I am not sure I would get away with that. It was a great way to grow up and a great business experience as well. It was a perfect tourism product for that time. We did not have competition then from Spain, Portugal, Italy and everywhere else. It suited the England of that day also because access elsewhere was not that easy. The business continued for over 20 years and we even made a little money.

But then things changed and what had been the perfect product slowly lost its shine. This was not because of anything we did or did not do, but because the world had changed. It had moved on and what was a great holiday idea in those lean first years after the war, was no longer right for the very different marketplace that was evolving in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We did the sensible thing; we closed Red Island down.

We did not make the mistake of thinking that the world owed us a living because we had got it right once. We did not look for subsidies or tax breaks to cushion an inevitable decline in business or for grants to transform one kind of holiday formula into another. We faced up to facts and we acted accordingly. There are very few things that are permanent in the world of tourism. One of the key facts that the strategic review has to face up to, is that the future will simply not be able to sustain all the businesses that thrived in the golden years. We are moving into a different kind of world and I hope we will be smart enough to realise it. It is only if we do realise it and plan accordingly that we can get the best for the country out of tourism in the years ahead.

The prospects for growth have radically altered. During the 1990s we saw the graph of world tourism stretching beyond 2010 and the forecast said it would continue to boom into the future.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator has seven minutes remaining in which to share his time with Senator Norris.

I will give Senator Norris four or five minutes. I do not believe the boom will continue. What happened in 2001 in New York and this year in Bali or whatever other calamity may befall us in future, this is not just a blip on a steadily rising curve. It marks a change in the development of world tourism and we must plan for that change rather than hope it will disappear. Tourism will continue to grow but not at the exponential rates that people used to expect. In any case they were unsustainable from an environmental and cultural point of view on a little island like this. People will continue to travel, but they will travel more carefully, more thoughtfully. They will become much more demanding in what they expect. Since travel now has a risk as well as a cost, they will expect it to deliver more than they did in the past.

The destinations that will prosper in this new environment are those who can adapt to it and give the new travellers what they want. Even in a smaller world tourism market, and a smaller share for Irish tourism within that market, we can increase the benefits that tourism brings to the country. First, we must stop trying to be all things to all men. At one time, only the numbers counted because the only way to go was up. Attempting to grow Irish tourism by growing the numbers is to rush towards unsustainability. There is a limit, which many would say we have already reached, to the number of visitors who can fit on a small island without radically changing the nature of the product on offer.

The second thing we must do is to compete through excellence on the quality of what we offer rather than the price. We cannot compete by lowering prices, but we can do so by raising our quality to match the prices we have to charge. I was interested to see yesterday that according to the Condé Nast organisation, Ireland now has four of the top ten hotels in Europe. That is the kind of achievement on which we can build. We cannot build one of the ten best hotels in Europe in every backyard. We are not going to build a profitable and sustainable tourism sector without a rethink of where we are going. I welcome the Minister's review and believe it will succeed if he takes that attitude. I do not believe we will waste our resources trying to flog a dead horse. It is in the hands of Tourism Ireland and I look forward to seeing it in future.

I am grateful to my colleague, Senator Quinn, for allowing me to share his time. He is somebody with considerable expertise in this area and I sincerely hope he did not cut himself short.

I welcome the Minister to the House. He may like to know we are discussing the report on the task force on immigration this afternoon. I expect it will come as some relief to him that he is now in a Ministry that handles tourism rather than these other matters, although he has done a good job in both, so far anyway.

While listening to the debate on the monitor, I was struck by the absence of reference to the establishment of the national tourism development authority on an all-island basis. It is striking that we have this united approach where there is co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It is very significant. These slow moves behind the scenes are crucially important in building a good relationship between both parts of the island. I notice that it can be called Fáilte Ireland and presume that is principally for the south although I am sure the idea of fáilte extends across the Border.

I am sure the Minister is well aware, as I am, of the significance of cultural tourism. It is an area that needs to be protected. People do not come here for the climate. The Minister will have the support of many in this House for seeking to protect the fairly small tax concessions to owners of large historic houses. It is very important as people come to Ireland to see these places. I take my hat off to people like Tony Ryan who did such a stunning job in Lyons. He is a wealthy man and perhaps he does not need it but he is entitled to be rewarded for the wonderful work he has done. That house never looked as good, even on the day it was built. Places such as Birr Castle, Castle Leslie, and Clonalis where the O'Conor Don comes from are all part of our cultural heritage. People come from all over the world to see them and they should be protected. The Minister knows that the centenary of James Joyce's great novelUlysses is coming up in 2004. I am aware that he has plans as he is farseeing in this and he is taking a very keen and interested approach. Although the James Joyce Centre will be very centrally involved in marking this event, we are also going to need help. Next year for the first time every last cent of State assistance will be removed. It is an extraordinary situation.

I recently spoke to the person who heads our FÁS scheme, which is being terminated even though it is a headline scheme, about her position in terms of redundancy. We will have no staff, which is extraordinary. We are heading towards 2004, when we will be attempting to make bricks without straw. The Minister is aware of this and I thank him for his positive attitude. However, something must be done. In the long term the only way that centre can remain open, when I am in my box or sunning myself in Cyprus, which I hope to do in a few years, is through the provision of statutory funding. If we are serious about cultural tourism, this issue must be examined.

I refer to the question of what we offer. Senator Quinn mentioned the product, some of which is absolutely stunning and marvellous and of which we should be proud. However, there are elements of which we cannot be proud. I will take, for example, North Great George's Street, a section of this city which I know very well. We have won the battle in large measure. Several buildings are open to the public and attract people to the area, which represents a section of the 18th century, preserved as it should be.

Revolutionary plans have been drawn up for O'Connell Street that may rehabilitate the entire area, but the link between that street and North Great George's Street is Parnell Street, which is a scab on the face of Dublin. It is intolerable that such a street can be permitted to continue in its current state in the heart of the Taoiseach's constituency. It is full of lap dancing clubs, gaming establishments and half demolished buildings while the Ambassador Cinema has been turned into a boozer.

Tourists who send letters to newspapers write about how they love the countryside, the welcome and farm house holidays, in particular, but complain about public drunkenness, people urinating and vomiting all over the place and the dirt and filth of the streets. I salute the workmen of Dublin Corporation for their heroic attempts to keep O'Connell Street clean, but this issue needs to be addressed.

Following the establishment of the new authority, I hope a proper, good marketing campaign will be undertaken in countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and America to promote the product. We have been weak in this regard. I hope the authority supports Aer Lingus which is usually the first port of call for visitors to Ireland and has operated to a high standard.

I also refer to the way in which the authority will deal with other aspects of the tourism industry. It was noticeable, particularly in Dublin, that in its old, unreconstructed days, Bord Fáilte had a terrible tendency to peddle only its own product and neglected other groups, cultural attractions and so on. The board must broaden its scope as it cannot get along any more peddling its own product only and not advising or briefing its staff about other issues. We need to sell the whole of Ireland, not merely what Bord Fáilte selects.

Let us end the discrimination against the north side of Dublin. For example, the Georgian Trail is located on the south side of the city, but the greatest Georgian architecture is to be found on the north side. There is a fear, however, in this regard because of the existence of places such as Parnell Street, to which the tourist authorities are afraid to direct middle aged tourists in case something untoward befalls them.

As a Dublin based politician, I do not aspire to follow Senator Norris, but warmly support many of the sentiments and views expressed by him. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus go n-éirí an t-adh leis san phortfolio nua atá aige. I commend the Minister for initiating this important Bill after a brief period in office at a crucial time in the history of tourism. On 4 July last he signalled his intention to accelerate the reform of the State's tourism agencies by appointing an interim board charged with the task of putting a new national tourism development agency in place. It is one of the key tourism elements of the new programme for Government.

The introduction of the legislation is another significant step as it will provide for the establishment of the authority on a statutory basis and is an important strategic move forward as part of an overall package to address the industry. The authority will bring Fáilte Ireland into being and subsume Bord Fáilte and CERT. Notwithstanding Bord Fáilte's shortcomings, as articulated by Senator Norris, I pay tribute to the board's work since its establishment in the early 1970s and the work of CERT, which the board established.

While I have more experience of dealing with CERT than Bord Fáilte, I commend CERT for the enormous work it has done in spreading the message, not only within Ireland, but also abroad to attract and encourage foreigners to visit Ireland. CERT provided high calibre training during the years that was second to none. I am delighted Senator Quinn referred to his previous existence running Red Island camp. When I moved to the north side of Dublin in the early 1960s, the camp was one of the key tourism projects with which northsiders identified and about which there was tremendous enthusiasm among them. Although it went out of business, it had a tremendous reputation in terms of the opportunities it afforded to the people of Dublin and its hinterland. I salute the contribution the project made to the industry at the time.

However, as various speakers have pointed out, the tourism industry is experiencing changed times following a period of unbroken and unsurpassed growth over the past ten to 15 years. One of the most telling features of the Minister's brief stewardship has been his speedy response to the changing fortunes of the industry. He has a programme of action in train which has been widely welcome throughout the industry. It is heartening that Members, who have great knowledge and experience and insight into the industry, have commended him on his work.

Significant events, such as the foot and mouth disease crisis and the fall-out from the 11 September tragedy, have affected the industry, but they were well flagged. Equally, the ITIC's examination of the industry in the form of the Tansey report pointed out a deep deterioration in price competitiveness since 2000. Senator Quinn, when referring to prices, stated it was not the only issue. While I defer to his experience and insight, I want to focus on it as part of the overall question of value for money because it cannot be easily ignored. If we do, it will be at our peril.

Last week the Minister announced a major review of tourism policy in the Dáil. I warmly welcome this as the most significant strategic move he has made and, like others, believe it will be one of the most fundamental steps taken in terms of the long-term viability of the industry. The review is an acknowledgment of the difficulties being experienced and the crossroads at which the industry finds itself. It will seek a wide ranging rounded package of measures to take on the new challenges facing the industry. Reservations have been expressed by Members on the other side of the House about the Department leading this major review but I warmly welcome the Minister's decision to have the Department spearhead it. It is intended to complete the review by March.

One of the central tasks of the review is to address the developments of last year. They were important developments but they do not hide serious growing concerns about the price and quality of the tourism product we offer our customers. That is the what we should be addressing now and it has been prioritised by the Minister in the review. There is a vigorous national debate on this matter, some of it anecdotal and some of it emotive, about the competitiveness of the Irish industry and the prices being charged.

What must be conveyed throughout the tourism organisations and right down to the smallest operators, and I am sure the Minister and the Department are doing this, is that it is not their perception of value for money that is important or relevant but the perception of visitors from mainland Europe, and in particular Britain. Britain is traditionally our biggest market for the tourism product. Paul O'Toole is the chief executive of Tourism Ireland Limited, the new body being established in this significant step for the future development of tourism. It will replace Bord Fáile and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Mr. O'Toole spoke about his concern that the events of last year were markers for long-term issues. He said it is no longer good enough simply to be "cool" to attract tourists. He regards competitiveness or value for money as the issue.

In 1995, almost two thirds of European visitors surveyed on behalf of Bord Fáilte rated Ireland as giving good value for money. By 2001, however, that proportion had declined to just one third. This deterioration is even more acute if one looks at the German market, although Italy, France and the Netherlands show similar trends. We have to face up to the disturbing developments we see in the results of these surveys. A Forfás study indicated that Ireland is the second most expensive country in the eurozone behind Finland. Under the headings of pubs and restaurants, the latest ranking of consumer prices positions Ireland as the joint most expensive country of the 12 eurozone countries and the second most expensive for drink.

I have heard stories from people who have visited hotels in Dublin, none of which is at or near the pinnacle of the market, and been charged up to €5 for a cup of cappuccino. In many instances they were charged more for a cup of cappuccino than most other establishments would charge for alcohol. That is abominable. There is no justification for it. One can talk about Government policy and Government intervention in the market by way of VAT, excise duties and so forth or one can talk about the upward trend in inflation but it does not take an economic wizard to know that these prices are way out of line with inflation, regardless of whether it is wages or general inflation.

I am not trying to talk Irish tourism or Dublin tourism into a type of negative psychological trap. That is not my purpose or motivation. Great things have happened in the tourism sector. There has been a marvellous ten to 15 years of unprecedented growth. The industry developed to such an extent that by 2000 it had left farming behind under a number of headings. Could anybody ever have believed that it would outstrip farming? This industry plays a key and strategic role in the economy and we must ensure we do everything possible to maintain and promote it. In so doing, we must remind the operators at the coalface that they bear a heavy responsibility in this regard and should work with the Minister, the Department and the various agencies.

I wish to share my time with Senator Tuffy.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am grateful that the Minister is present for this debate and that he has attended two previous debates in this Chamber. I can understand the demands on his time. I welcome the Bill. The Labour Party has no reservations about it at this juncture.

Tourism has been a major part of our economy in recent years and during the economic boom it seemed to take on a life of its own. No matter what one did, it seemed to be successful. It generated massive revenue but suffered a devastating setback with the events of 11 September 2001 and the foot and mouth outbreak, neither of which anybody could have foreseen. It is important when such debacles occur that we have an appropriate recovery programme which can be used to help limit their effects and assist the various elements of the tourism industry to get back up and running as soon as is practicable.

This Bill provides for the amalgamation or merger of two distinct bodies, one of them statutory. I presume this decision was not taken without many consultations and negotiations over various issues. The merger of any two organisations can have teething problems which cause certain degrees of difficulty. The views and reactions of the people involved in both boards are critical to a smooth transition to a new entity which has the same functions of the original two entities. It is important, particularly in this sector, that issues do not arise under the single governing body which would hinder the progress of the industry in general.

The majority of our tourists, as Senator Fitzgerald pointed out, come from the UK. It is important that we market this country in the UK and seek to exploit every ounce of potential in that market. For years before our tourism industry became so successful the majority of our tourism business came from the UK, particularly in times of low economic performance. It is important, therefore, that we continue to concentrate our marketing in the United Kingdom. As the saying goes, "when all fruit fails, welcome haws". I do not intend that remark to be flippant but it is important for the tourism industry that we maintain a strong emphasis on marketing this country abroad and particularly in the UK.

The training and development agency CERT provides a high standard of training to the many people who go through that school of education. It has been critical to the delivery of a good service in the sector. That is of the utmost importance. Service is something everybody is conscious of when they go away on a break or on a holiday. It is critical that there is a good standard of service and the people who deliver the service should be suitably qualified to do so. One can have the best product in the world but if there is a bad conduit between it and the public, the product can fail as a consequence. CERT has proved over the last number of years that it is an institution of high standards, including high academic standards. It also ensured the delivery of all products in whatever areas to a standard that was second to none.

The level of expertise and professionalism was obvious in bars, hotels and other sectors of the services industry. We must maintain the emphasis on attracting people to that sector and, as with other occupations, such positions must be lucrative in order to attract key personnel. We must concentrate therefore on providing such factors because if one pays peanuts one will get monkeys. We must continue to scrutinise remuneration levels so that suitably qualified personnel will continue to be employed in the services sector.

In the context of the Bill, I presume that trade unions, employers and the employees themselves have been consulted in order to successfully merge both existing bodies. It is welcome that progress has reached this advanced stage.

Senator Fitzgerald quite rightly mentioned the exorbitant price of a cappuccino. One can spend much more for a cup of coffee in upmarket cafés and hotels in Dublin and elsewhere, excluding Cork and Kerry of course, than one would in a foreign holiday destination. Even taking taxes into consideration, there is an unswerving determination to get every last cent from customers. That is a bad mindset, however, because people are easily influenced by high prices. We should keep an eye on prices that are being charged in the services sector and overpricing should not be tolerated. In the end, it comes down to the customer's decision whether to purchase a product, and that can determine whether visitors will return to a destination. If they feel the person behind the counter is acting like the famous highwayman of old, Dick Turpin, then they will not come back. Not everyone who comes here steps off the plane at Shannon Airport with money spilling out of their pockets.

I thank the Minister for taking time out of his schedule to debate the Bill with us. We may wish to tease out particular issues on Committee Stage.

I wish to raise a few concerns about the Bill. Section 11 allows the authority to delegate certain of its functions, but that may have an impact on staff who may find that their functions have been delegated to Tourism Ireland, for example. Bord Fáilte has an environmental role and in certain cases it can object to planning applications, yet this is not referred to in the Bill. In addition, the tourism review should be completed before the Bill is enacted.

Staff should enjoy mobility between the national tourism development authority, Tourism Ireland and regional tourism authorities. Such an interchange would facilitate both the staff and organisations concerned.

In his speech the Minister mentioned niche marketing as an important role of Bord Fáilte, yet it is not referred to in the Bill. Perhaps he could explain that omission in his reply.

As regards the membership of the proposed national tourism development authority, there will be no worker director on the board. The Minister should explain why this is so. The Bill refers to TDs and Senators not being members of the board of the authority but councillors are not mentioned. I would question that as well.

Section 32, which restricts the chief executive from commenting on governmental decisions or from criticising the Minister, is a broad provision. It appears to be extreme and is obviously topical at the moment. Section 8 allows the new authority to establish and operate tourism information offices, but I am concerned as to how this will affect the role of regional tourism authorities.

Tourism development is close to my heart because there is huge untapped potential for such development. Many areas are not considered to be traditional tourist destinations but they should be. I represent an area of west Dublin which includes the Liffey Valley, many heritage buildings, environmental amenities, shopping facilities and very good hotels. There is therefore a major potential for developing tourism in that area, particularly heritage and environmental tourism, but to my knowledge there is no tourism office in the area.

We need to broaden the focus on tourism to include areas which are currently excluded, such as Kildare, Mayo and Sligo. While the international marketing of Ireland as a tourist destination is important, we must also exploit the domestic market to its fullest potential.

I hope the finer details of the legislation will be addressed on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Bill and thank the Minister for his work to date on tourism development. I recognise also the work undertaken by the previous Minister, Deputy McDaid. He did an excellent job and it should be remembered that during his term of office many unforeseen difficulties arose which caused major problems.

The proposed authority will deal with the country as a whole, which is something that should have been done years ago. Nonetheless, I recognise the amount of work that has been done in the past by many organisations promoting tourism on a countrywide basis. In particular, I compliment all the regional tourism authorities that were involved.

On Committee Stage I look forward to questioning the Minister in order to clarify certain issues in this regard. The regional authorities did an excellent job, although complaints arose about overlapping of responsibility for tourism promotion, in some instances by local authorities which had tourism committees. I refer to the midlands region where we had Shannon Development which did an excellent job in tourism promotion in south west Offaly, north Tipperary, County Clare and part of north Kerry. However, there was always a problem with those who believed they were on the periphery of an area and whose tourism interests were not being looked after. Those involved in tourism looked at the size of some of the tourism organisations – Western Tourism and so on – and believed they were too big to concentrate on particular specialised areas of tourism.

County tourism groups were set up in most counties and also did an excellent job. Farmhouse tourism has developed in the last five years, particularly in certain areas where farms were hard pressed. They have now diversified and moved into tourism, introducing pony trekking, fishing and shooting. We have an ideal opportunity to develop this kind of tourism, though local authorities have much work to do to ensure the water quality of our lakes and rivers improves in order that fish life returns. Tourists can then return to enjoy their fishing.

There are also great opportunities for shooting tourism. I went to Scotland recently on a shooting trip where shooting is quite a big tourist attraction in the Perth area in particular, where groups are brought to shoot grouse and partridge. While it is not cheap, we must look at developing this sector of the market. There are reasons for the fact that some wildlife we had in the past does not now exist. We should bring in more foreign tourists, not just those interested in shooting, but also other family members who may want to enjoy other tourist attractions.

Many of our historic sites need quite a bit of work by Dúchas and the Office of Public Works. It is next to impossible to park a car next to some of our historic sites, let alone buses. If we want to attract tourists, we must provide facilities and ensure when people visit areas, they are welcomed and there is proper parking. While excellent work has been done at some sites, other important sites have practically nothing – there has been no development whatever. When families visit particular regions, one family member may have a specific interest in the area and the rest explore the area. We must ensure they go home to spread the good news in order that others will visit the area.

We should compliment hotels which have spent a lot of money on developing their facilities. The Department and other bodies have given substantial grants to aid development in hotels, to many of which great credit is due. Their owners took the initiative and put facilities in place when the numbers visiting Ireland were not as high as they are now. There is now accommodation in most towns and one has no problem getting beds for a busload of tourists in most average sized towns, particularly in the midlands; in the past it was hard for a carload of people to obtain accommodation in a bed and breakfast establishment for the night. We must compliment those who have put money into hotels and ensure they are helped in any way we can, as some of them have had problems over the last 12 months. I spoke recently to people in Galway who said tourism in the area last year was as good as it ever was. There is great credit due to the Department for going out to America and promoting Ireland. Some might say a large amount of money was spent promoting tourism in Ireland, but that is what this is about; we cannot expect people to come here if we do not go out and sell ourselves. That has to be done.

I mentioned the development of golfing facilities, which has been excellent, but we must look at our costs. There are people who saw the high numbers of visitors and took the opportunity to rip them off. This must be examined as we have to be competitive with our prices, which unfortunately has not been the case in some areas. The new tourism organisations must state we have to be competitive and look at our costs. If costs are too high in our hotels, they must be altered to ensure tourists enjoy their holidays at a reasonable cost.

I thank the Minister and look forward to dealing with this important Bill in detail. There will be questions on various sections which we can raise at a later date. I wish the Minister well with this difficult portfolio as he kickstarts the tourism industry. He comes from County Kerry, the pride of the country, and it will be no bother to him to ensure tourism is developed all over the country by this new body. Every area will get its fair share of development.

I thank the Minister for bringing this Bill to the Seanad. It is a legal document transferring the powers of CERT and Bord Fáilte. One problem I have is that the body is to be described as Fáilte Ireland, translated as Tourism Ireland. This does not sound very radical to me; rather it sounds like the debate on the shape of the shamrock on Aer Lingus planes. If the word "Bord" was removed, it might seem odd abroad. There are some pointers in the margin.

The Bill deals with the establishment of an authority of 12 members as well as a chairman. I agree with the idea of staggering membership with four members sitting for three years, four for four years and five for five years. I observe that the Minister recently appointed Mr. Páidí Ó Sé to the board of Bord Fáilte. I recommend that the Minister appoint Mr. Michael O'Leary, a constituency colleague of the Leader of the House and chief executive of Ryanair, to the new body. Mr. O'Leary has done more than anyone else to bring tourists into the country. Last week Mr. O'Leary wrote that it took between €300 and €500 for an air ticket to come into this country but less than €30 for a ticket to get out.

I recommend that the Minister break the Aer Rianta monopoly by separating Cork and Shannon airports and develop low cost hotels at Dublin Airport.

Bord Fáilte Éireann was established in 1955 and tourism reached a high point in 2000. The Celtic tiger economy was healthy, visitor numbers had doubled in ten years to 6 million and employment in tourism had risen by 84% to 138,000 or 10% of the workforce. The old images of cottage Ireland were being replaced by one of a modern, green, people orientated, high quality European destination with the tag line, "Live a different life". Then the problems came. The sheep industry suffered problems in south Armagh, Cooley and Athleague and Osama bin Laden changed matters further on 11 September 2001. The figures for 2001 showed a 5% decrease but those involved in tourism on the ground saw that matters were much worse than that. The figure for United States coach tours fell by 25% in 2001 and may fall by as much as 40% this year. The American tourist spends an average of €806 per person compared to an average British spend of €356.

Alarm bells were ringing even before the foot and mouth crisis. Our problem was cost effectiveness. The Irish tourism market was pricing itself out of competitiveness and this has been recognised by the Irish tourism industry itself. We must be competitive if we are to demonstrate that tourists should visit us because we are worth it. It is much easier to bring a person back to Ireland as a repeat tourist than to persuade one to come for the first time.

We sold ourselves abroad on the three Ps principle – people, place and pace. Unfortunately the old Ireland of the welcomes is fast disappearing. We are all too busy and many in the front end of the service are not Irish anyway. Young Irish people are not always pleasant servers. It costs nothing to say, "please", "thank you" and "hello" and smile. Mr. Rudi Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, introduced a Smile New York campaign. I wonder how that would go down with taxi drivers in Dublin who do not seem to know how to smile or show any courtesy to tourists and who seem to take tourists for granted. If we take tourists for granted we will lose them for good.

I welcome the fact that the Baltimore-Dublin-Washington route will be opened next year. Because holidays are now being booked at the beginnng of the year as well as at the end, advertising must be spread throughout the year. Recognition of the growing role of the Internet and technology booking and advertising is also vital.

We must use well known Irish people, such as Pádraig Harrington, Sonia O'Sullivan, Éamon Coghlan, Liam Neeson, Séamas Heaney, U2 and the Chieftains to market Ireland. We must put all hands to the pumps. A successful advertising campaign is being run in the United States featuring the actor Martin Sheen, of the TV programme, "The West Wing".

Would the Senator not use Colonel Dermot Earley?

Yes, he is a great Roscommon man.

I commend Bord Bia on the promotion of Irish food abroad. It has a valued reputation.

To ensure growth and consolidation we must decide what section of the tourism market we are in. We are no longer a low cost country and we are not a sun or winter destination. Dublin is a young party city although there are problems in Temple Bar. It looks as if Bord Fáilte will be sponsoring the Irish Open Golf Championship next year. The Ryder Cup will be held in Ireland in 2008 and Irish golf courses have a good reputation. Many featured in a recently published list of top 100 golf courses. Next year we will host the Special Olympics, which will be vitally important for tourism. The European soccer championships in 2008 will be a huge incentive for tourists to visit Ireland. The opening of Croke Park will enable the GAA to show off a magnificent stadium. Last Sunday an Oireachtas team played against a team from the Scottish Parliament in Trinity College. This highlighted the unity of the two countries.

We failed.

We had a bad captain.

For those who turned out it was not a failure.

The development of the River Shannon and its tie-up with the Erne waterway are important. We must promote projects to ensure that the assets of the midlands, particularly the River Shannon, are opened up. Lockey Forest Park, on my own doorstep, is a prime example. More could be spent on the home tourism market if local groups had the facilities.

The issues of crime and safety impinge on tourism. The Minister knows all about the policy of zero tolerance, which was promised some years ago. Crime in Ireland will undermine the tourism potential of the country.

Litter, the poor provision of health care, bad road signage and traffic gridlock create problems for tourism. We need more indoor facilities and reasonably priced transport. We need hostels for backpackers. In the early 1980s I spent two years travelling around the world as a backpacker. Backpackers will only go where there is value for money, hostels and cheap reliable transport. However, they must be attracted because they are the big tourist spenders of tomorrow.

I appeal to the Minister to appoint Mr. Michael O'Leary to the board of the new body. He has done more to bring tourists to this country than any other person, and as he says, "Keep it simple".

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the National Tourism Development Authority Bill, 2002, and I welcome the Minister to the House. It is not long since he was last here to discuss issues relating to tourism. On that occasion we referred to this new tourism development authority. I welcome the fact that the functions of Bord Fáilte and CERT will be transferred to the new body.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement tourism was designated as an area for cross-Border co-operation and I hope the promotion of tourism on the whole island by the NTDA will be one of the benefits of the Agreement.

We have seen the great benefits of the Good Friday Agreement. The forum for reconciliation is meeting today and the House has already congratulated Senator Maurice Hayes on his chairmanship of this body. All the people on this island will benefit from these developments.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

I very much welcome the competition in respect of airlines and visitors coming to this country. Obviously, I compliment Ryanair on the work it is doing, as well as Aer Lingus, our national carrier.

There have been many complaints about the congestion at Dublin Airport. I welcome the fact that the Minister for Transport has talked about a second terminal, for which many have looked because of the huge volume of traffic passing through the airport.

I welcome the fact that other airports have created their own packages to entice tourists to the country. For example, at Horan International Airport at Knock, County Mayo, there has been a big promotion to try get people into the west. There are now promotions of direct flights from Knock to Spain. The advertising in this regard states there is plenty of room to park one's car and that there is no congestion. It is now relatively easy to take flights from the west to Spain.

This raises the question of how one gets people into the west. While the promotion by Horan International Airport is very welcome, another issue that should be looked at by the Minister concerns the railway system. I have spoken in the House before about what I call the north-south line, the Sligo-Limerick line, with links to Rosslare. The line has been downgraded on a number of occasions, first by taking away passenger traffic and then freight traffic.

During an Adjournment debate last week I stated I was appalled by the disconnection of the signalling system at Athenry, County Galway and the taking up of part of the track. This is sending out the wrong message as regards getting money invested in the railway. Iarnród Éireann has costed the restoration of the service at €100 million. By way of a tourism project, we should get the line upgraded again. A light rail system is certainly needed to get traffic from Tuam into Galway. To get people from the south east to the west, it would make sense to have a fully serviced railway line in place. People arrive at Rosslare and find it difficult to make the journey across to the west. A railway would be a definite answer.

I do not begrudge anybody a continental holiday, but some years ago we had a travel tax, which was removed. At a time when the economy is in difficulty we should look at ways of raising money. It might be advisable for the Minister to look at the question of a travel tax in this regard.

The BMW region should be promoted more by Bord Fáilte and Ireland West. For too long passengers arriving on chartered flight or coach tours have not travelled outside the mid-west, apart from trips to Dublin. There is, therefore, a strong case to be made for promoting other regions in the country, for example, north Mayo and east Galway. Many tourists go to east Galway to view the architectural heritage, such as Clonfert Cathedral, yet there is very little promotion of angling, forestry and picnic areas. These should be incorporated in the itineraries of the coach tours.

St. Patrick's Day has been heavily promoted, especially in Dublin. Similar promotion is occurring elsewhere in the country, which is a welcome development. Senator Moylan referred to the bog trails in west Offaly. It is an example of a different kind of tourism, promoted by Bord na Móna. The railways can be utilised in this.

Sports tourism has been in the news recently and I compliment the Minister on his efforts to ensure Ireland co-hosts the European soccer championships for 2008. Perhaps our bid will be more successful than the Scotland-Ireland match last weekend involving Members of the Oireachtas. The holding of the Special Olympics next year will attract thousands of athletes, coaches, trainers and supporters. I hope there will be a sufficient number of volunteers to participate in an event that has caught the public imagination. Athletes from Ecuador will stay in my own town of Mountbellew and volunteers are learning Spanish, which demonstrates their enthusiasm.

I hope the proposed new board will be a success. It is good to promote Ireland on an all-island basis and I wish the Minister success.

I welcome the Bill. It is good to see such an emphasis being put on tourism. In view of international competition, tourism must be promoted and it essential that the country be shown in a positive light. However, a recent innovation, one to which I strongly object, shows us in a very bad light. Aer Rianta has introduced a refundable one euro charge for baggage trolleys at Dublin Airport. I was at the airport yesterday morning with American visitors who only had dollars. I had no euro either because I was returning from abroad. Prior to the introduction of the charge it was difficult to get a trolley but now there is no problem because nobody has euro to use them. By the time tourists have changed currency they would have secured their baggage and left the airport.

While Aer Rianta is not the responsibility of the Minister, it should be reprimanded for this development. It is the most unwelcome way to bring anyone into the country. There is a conflict in the Government about how near we are to Boston or Berlin. While similar charges apply in American airports, I am not aware of their application in any other European airport. They should be stopped immediately. It is outrageous that older tourists especially may be left to drag their baggage to taxis.

With regard to the Bill, several Senators referred to the importance of good pricing. It is now very easy for visitors from countries in the eurozone to make price comparisons and given the parity in value between the dollar and the euro, Americans can do the same. By comparison with countries of which I have most experience, such as France and Italy, prices here for food and accommodation are higher. When I mention this to restaurateurs and hoteliers they say one of their big problems is the cost of insurance. Those involved in these businesses are not overpaid, nor do they appear to be making exorbitant profits. If insurance cover is a big problem I hope the Minister will address it.

By comparison with the United Kingdom, services here are much better value. Fortunately, British tourists are easier to attract than those who live further away. However, the Minister should ensure that the promotion of Ireland emphasises that the country is peaceful because there is a misconception that there has been trouble throughout the island, which has not helped the industry. Many Americans consider Europe to be too near the Middle East and, therefore, too much at risk from terrorist activities.

Food in the country has attained a high quality and Bord Bia has done good work in stressing the use of Irish ingredients. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those such as Mertyl Allen of Ballymaloo who told us what could be done in this area. Most hotels and restaurants and especially farmhouse accommodation and historic places produce meals of the highest standard.

The lack of Irish staff in hotels and restaurants is a cause of concern. Large numbers of staff are immigrants and while they are very good, many cannot speak English and know little or nothing about the district in which they work. Tourists hope to meet locals and find out about the places they visit. While I favour the training of personnel for the hotel industry from Slovakia and other eastern European countries, there is a need to ensure that there are plentiful numbers of Irish staff at the front line.

I recently attended a family funeral in County Cork, which follows County Kerry in terms of natural beauty and tourism attractions. All of the family houses being full I stayed in a small hotel where breakfast was prepared and served by one of my cousins. I was surprised to learn that her friend who ran the hotel was short of Irish staff and had asked her to help, given that her training was in what used to be called domestic economy. I hope similar local initiatives occur elsewhere because it helps if breakfast is served by someone with whom tourists can interact.

I hope foreign staff are not being exploited in the industry. There is a need to ensure that they are treated in the same way as Irish employees and that there is a good mix of staff at the front line.

We complain a Iot about the weather but our spectacular rainfall has given the country some advantages. I have been told that more people come here to visit our gardens than to play golf. I do not know if this is true because it was told to me by a very enthusiastic gardener who also has a craft shop in the middle of a beautiful garden in County Wicklow. We have spectacular gardens throughout the country and they are now open for longer periods during the year. I went to see a very famous garden in Italy last year and if one had visited the same garden here, one would have said it had a few well cut shrubs and nothing else. We have beautiful herbaceous borders all summer and magnificent trees and we need to promote those because they are unique. We should profit from what we have in the way of rainfall rather than complaining about it all the time.

Bord Fáilte was excellent at helping people who were organising conferences and I hope that new unit will be helpful in that regard also. I am a member of various international organisations and when the subject of where to hold the next conference comes up, I keep my head down and look at the green vase on the table because everyone wants to come to Ireland and I would be the person who would have to organise it. I realise we do not have big conference centres but we have plenty of space for small conferences which can be more profitable because people come for pre-conference and post-conference tours, and they keep coming back.

I was impressed when Senator Feighan talked about backpacking around the world and that we should take care of the backpackers because they are the tourists of the future. They may have visited here in their 20s and decide to come back in the future when they have more money. That is important.

The point Senator Kitt made about public transport is important. It is sometimes extraordinarily difficult to get around this country on public transport. I am one of those unfortunates who has got off the Rosslare ferry only to see the train departing in the distance because it does not meet the ferry; it does not go there at all now. Public transport is a problem and I am aware it is being addressed by the Minister for Transport but we have an awful lot to do in that area. Synchronisation of tickets on the buses in Dublin would be a good idea also.

An alarming development in the car hire business was brought to my attention the other day by someone who arrived here and tried to hire a car. This American man has a house in County Wexford but he could not hire a car because he was over 70. I do not know if all car hire firms are introducing this regulation but it would be serious if that sort of problem arises. This man's wife managed to hire a car because she was under 70 but if we start to refuse car hire to people over 70, who are big spenders and who, as Professor Des O'Neill of Trinity College Department of Geriatrics told me, have good driving records, it would be a very serious development.

I join with my colleagues on all sides of the House in welcoming the Minister here today and thanking him for being with us. This is the second occasion he has been in the House in a short period of time which demonstrates that the Minister has taken up his new brief with great vigour and enthusiasm and is prepared to drive it at this important time.

I welcome the establishment of the national tourism development agency which sets out an important framework for the development of the industry. The setting up of this agency will see the disbandment of Bord Fáilte and CERT; both agencies provided an exceptional quality of service to this State for many years. We talked here today, and in previous debates, about the unprecedented levels of growth in tourism we have experienced in the past ten years and I have no doubt that growth was driven by the enthusiasm, dedication and work of Bord Fáilte and the board of directors. The same can be said about the work of the staff and the board of CERT and the commitment it has shown to this State for many years in terms of the development of the industry. We must congratulate those agencies on that and not forget them with the development of this new agency.

This Bill is an important development. We have talked about the crossroads in the industry and we have seen a decline of 10% in the figures for 2001. We are all familiar with the reasons for that decline – foot and mouth disease, the 11 September disaster and the economic downturn throughout the world – but an aspect which is often mentioned but on which there is not enough concentration is the competitive environment in which we now find ourselves. We talk about competition from other countries in terms of their ability to attract tourists and the way we are slipping behind in that regard to some extent. That is something we have to be careful of because it is probably the most important factor. The other factors – foot and mouth disease, 11 September and the downturn in the economy – are ones that other tourist destinations have suffered. We have a role to play in the competitive aspect and the Minister has rightly identified that as the key priority going forward, particularly with his review of the tourism sector and the work he and his Department intend to do in that area.

Senator Henry mentioned the element in relation to insurance. I have no doubt that is an important factor and one which is driving the cost base but, nonetheless, there are other pressures which need to be reviewed and I have no doubt that will be done as part of the Minister's review.

There are challenges ahead, the most important of which is to return to the growth in the industry. We have seen a fall off in tourist numbers this year, particularly in the west where there has been a drop of approximately 4%, while the east has seen an increase of 25%. That is particularly disturbing at a time when we are examining a spatial strategy, regional development and many other initiatives to try to promote the rural community and maintain people in the west and along the Atlantic corridor. Any measures that can assist in that regard, therefore, would be most welcome.

I have talked about the competitive environment. One of the challenges facing us is to maintain our ability to compete with countries like the United Kingdom because visitors from the north western end of Europe might want to visit the area often being referred to as the British Isles. We may be losing out in that regard so we need to review that aspect.

Another challenge facing us is to redefine our product and product mix. We have to understand the marketplace and what the markets in these different countries want in terms of tourism projects. We have to look to new markets and perhaps look outside some of the areas we have targeted already. We must examine our facilities and the services we provide because these are vital elements going forward.

Senator Kitt referred earlier to the east Galway region which shares some of the same resources we have in east Clare and in the entire Clare region from where I come. Fishing, shooting and forestry trails are vital elements in these areas that have not been tapped into to the extent possible. The River Shannon, which I talked about in a recent debate and on which I will not dwell again, is a vital national resource which has not been exploited to the greatest extent possible.

Before the sos Senator Feighan spoke at some length on particular issues and I want to take issue with a number of them. He talked about the Bill not being radical enough. The Bill may not be radical but the implementation of the job of work this board will do and the work of the agency going forward will define the radical nature of what comes forward. I urge Senator Feighan to wait and see what will be in the work programme.

There was some discussion about the appointments to the board and mention was made of Páidí Ó Sé. People like him are excellent choices for this type of board. We need people with knowledge and experience who have the image and who understand the position in terms of the west, rural Ireland and the culture associated with those regions. Figures like that will bring so much to the table in terms of defining our tourism strategy. We need people who are not necessarily motivated by money but by the development of the community.

I have to take serious issue with Senator Feighan's ill-informed comments about the break-up of Aer Rianta. I wonder what can be achieved by its breakup, about which there has been a lot of talk, but if there is to be balanced regional development, we need to invest in the regions. An airport is a key element of infrastructure in the west where Shannon Airport occupies a unique position. While there is a lot of talk about competition between Dublin and Shannon airports, competition would lead to the destruction of Shannon Airport which must not be seen merely as a profit-generating element but as a gateway to the west and the entire Atlantic corridor from County Kerry to County Donegal.

I know it does not fall within his remit, but I urge the Minister to consider this issue because the Departments of Transport and Arts, Sport and Tourism work hand in hand in the promotion of tourism in the west. I am concerned that Shannon Airport would never be able to compete with an airport such as Dublin regardless of how it might be resourced. A difficulty would arise in trying to attract tourists to the west. An airport like Dublin could attract tourists from certain areas on a loss leader basis with flights coming in at the behest of east coast interests. This would perpetuate the imbalance of which I spoke and lead to the destruction of tourism in the west unless we are very careful. Those who would suffer are those who live along the Atlantic corridor, not just those who live in Shannon and the rest of County Clare. Shannon Airport is the key to regional development. Other issues of concern to the tourism industry relate to the open skies policy.

There are a number of factors over which we have no control and which will prevent Ireland from achieving the same record levels of growth in the future that have been achieved in the ten years up to 2001. Obviously, we have no control over the power of these outside influences which slow down the world economy or the difficulties being experienced by the aviation sector worldwide. There are, however, a number of actions which we can and must take to ensure the tourism sector recovers. We cannot increase the number of tourists coming to this country unless we are prepared to increase access. There has been a discussion of companies such as Ryanair. The airlines and ferry companies are key and vital elements in attracting visitors.

I am confident that the persons appointed by the Minister will focus on these elements. I congratulate him on his speedy and timely interaction in the tourism sector and his recognition of the potential decline in numbers. He has taken prompt action to ensure this decline does not continue. The proposed agency and the Minister's constant attention will create a strong and buoyant future for the tourism sector.

I welcome the Minister. Tourism has grown rapidly in the past decade. The benefits of this growth have not been evenly spread, particularly in rural counties outside the main honey pots and Dublin. It is time for the honey to be spread more evenly.

There are numerous policy changes and interventions required in the various sections dealing with tourism, particularly the tourism authorities, an issue I have raised many times at regional authority meetings. Tourism growth must be dispersed in a more balanced manner. It is important to give high priority to the support of competitiveness and expansion in the regions and target the development of tourism in rural areas.

Over the past decade Dublin has been established as a major tourist destination in Europe and has the fastest rate of tourism growth in Ireland. The fact that the vast majority of overseas visitors enter Ireland via the east coast adds to the imbalance between the east and the rest of the country. Although overall tourist numbers have grown throughout the country, it has been at a much slower rate and very unevenly dispersed, both in terms of volume and value. Tourists mainly go to the long-established honey pots in the western coastal resorts, south Kerry and north west Donegal. One of the main reasons given by tourists for visiting Ireland is the desire for experiences likely to be found in rural parishes and townlands, yet very few visit areas outside the main tourist trail, even then they mostly pass through.

Politicians need to examine how tourism development can be more widely dispersed throughout rural Ireland, outside the honey pot destinations. What is needed is a fresh look at the whole issue of the structures in place to develop the product. The Bill goes some way in this direction. We must question whether the regional authority boards are doing a good job or have outlived their usefulness. I have consulted a number of agencies, representative bodies and community leaders and believe it is time for change.

Any new regional structure should be in line with the regional authorities or the amalgamation of, say, two regional authorities with a similar product to promote or sell. I suggest the amalgamation of, for example, the midlands and mid-western authorities under the umbrella of a midlands regional tourism board. I come from a midlands county and believe we have been left out of the Midlands-East Tourism board's development plans. The counties in the eastern part of the region are given more consideration. There has been little or no development of the tourism product in County Longford.

It is important that the present structure of the board should be re-examined. There is a strong belief among those involved in tourism that there is extensive fragmentation of the sector leading to too many tourism bodies with a lot of little brochures. There is an urgent need for a framework to enable all the bodies to work with one vision and one strategy for tourism development in rural regions.

The Bill gives us space to recommend changes to policy and implement mechanisms for the development of tourism. The White Paper – A Strategy for Rural Development in Ireland – stated rural tourism policy must be integrated effectively into national tourism policy, particularly the national marketing effort and a regional approach to economic development. It is important that we act to improve the spatial spread of tourism and review the established tourism board, structures and supports. The setting up of a national board as proposed in the Bill is a good start in the process.

In this context, the midlands could be used as the setting for a pilot study of a new approach. The River Shannon with its tributaries and lakes is a wonderful asset which traverses the region. The canals could be developed and there is an abundance of peat bogs which could support a stand-alone tourism facility. Castles and ancient monuments – the traditional rural heritage – are in a state of neglect and should be developed because American tourists find them very interesting. Rural activities such as horse-riding, cycling, fishing, walking and water sports, should be promoted.

The Royal Canal has been developed in recent years, although there has been a go-slow in development from Abbeyshrule to Longford and the link up with the Shannon. It is important that it is developed to its full potential by a complete restoration to the Shannon and to develop Longford as a new destination for Shannon based boats. Also, proposals should be brought forward in regard to links with the Grand Canalvia Lough Ennell, the River Brosna and the restored Kilbeggan branch.

It is important to develop the water infrastructure in the midlands. We should link the Royal Canal at the Boyne aqueduct in Longwood, County Meath, to an extended and restored Boyne navigation and westwards to Ballyconnell and the Erne Waterway. A great job was done ten or 12 years ago on the Erne Waterway and it could be developed and linked up with midlands and the eastern part of the country. There is a lot of food for thought in these proposals and they should be given serious consideration. There is neglect in terms of providing this type of infrastructure in the midland region.

If one talks to any tour operator, travel writer or Bord Fáilte overseas executive or carrier executive, one will find they know little or nothing about the midlands. Is it because the present structures have failed us? Rural tourism helps to safeguard and create jobs in rural areas and it is the key factor in social and cultural development. It is also a powerful factor in the rural economy which needs to be promoted and supported. It is important to have leadership and commitment which will get us over the administrative hurdles that make action most difficult. It is important that the Minister should consider the restructuring of the existing boards. The midlands development association, which was abandoned, should be re-established.

I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well with this Bill. Bord Fáilte has provided a great service to the country since 1955, as has CERT since 1963. On the last occasion the Minister was in the House I mentioned interaction between Government agencies, including the Irish Trade Board and Bord Fáilte, promoting the tourism product and other products in the United States and elsewhere. There should be greater interaction between those agencies and each should know exactly what the others are doing. CERT has done a tremendous job in regard to the provision of catering staff and has produced many fine chefs and people in the catering industry.

A number of speakers alluded to our competitiveness in the tourism market and the fact we are pricing ourselves out of the market. I do not know what the Minister is going to do to make us more competitive but we are not competitive in regard to hotel room rates, green fees, food, etc. Years ago we were uncompetitive in regard to transport costs, the price of diesel and petrol, but those prices have come down, yet we remain uncompetitive in the areas I mentioned.

We have gone through two bad years following the foot and mouth crisis and 11 September. Those two events had a negative effect on the Irish tourism market and next year every effort must be made to help the tourist board and tourism industry. The Minister stated that the authority will have a number of jobs to do, including product development, marketing of domestic tourism on the island of Ireland, with which I fully agree, research, strategic planning, specialist product marketing, promotions in niche markets, regional marketing and implementation of specific initiatives, such as the tourism sport initiative. I welcome the Minister's initiative in terms of getting people, such as Padraig Harrington, and other great sports people to market the country.

Statutory functions of the authority will also include the registration and grading of certain tourist accommodation, co-ordination of activities on the regional tourism authorities and tourism and the environment. I hope there will be no bias towards any region and that each will get its fair share. There was, undoubtedly, a bias towards the south east, the most developed region. The reason was that the most money was pumped into it. I urge the Minister to give all the regions their fair share of marketing and ensure each region is marketed equally.

I welcome the setting up of this authority and wish it the best of luck. It is the right approach as we need new initiatives and branding. Will the new authority have a new marketing logo? If so, will it be an expensive outlay? When Aer Lingus developed a new marketing logo, it cost a lot of money and I do not believe it was of any great benefit. In this case, however, a new marketing initiative and logo are important.

Section 13 places a lot of responsibility on the Minister who may direct the authority to do something. I hope this will not interfere in the day to day running of the authority. I am not sure I have seen such a section in previous Bills concerning semi-State bodies.

I am aghast at section 19 and ask that the Minister look at it again before Committee Stage. In effect, section 19 means that a high ranking official working in the authority could seek election to Dáil Éireann. This is a provision which I have not seen in Bills before the House. I could envisage a situation where a high ranking official could promote the area in which he is seeking election and could provide funds for that region. On election to Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann, he could seek leave of absence from the authority but return to it on leaving politics. The Minister must look at this section which is not in keeping with the standards applying to semi-State bodies. I have not seen a provision where a high ranking official could seek election to Dáil Éireann while holding down a top job in the Civil Service or a semi-State company. I urge the Minister to look at section 19 before Committee Stage.

I hope when the Bill is enacted and the new board is in place that all the regions will get their fair share of funding. Every region is different and has something to offer tourists. I agree with previous speakers that this country may not be as friendly as it was. There are a number of reasons for that. However, we still have a great product. Fishing is a great sport and tourist attraction. More could be done to develop some of our lakes and rivers. Some fisheries boards are starved of funds to upgrade rivers and lakes. Funds could be used to promote Ireland as a fishing destination and a sporting destination.

I thank Senators for their comments on the Bill and for the strong support they have expressed for it. It is a tightly focused Bill which does not set out a grand strategy for Irish tourism. The forthcoming review of tourism policy will address that.

This Bill simply provides for the establiishment of a national tourism development authority which should hopefully bring a new dynamic to developments in the sector. There are many activities, strategies and orientations with which the authority would be concerned. Senators have refered to some of these, and it is not appropriate to spell them all out in legislation. These will be dealt with in the mission statement and corporate plan of the authority, which will be informed by national tourism policy. Some of them may be dealt with in regulations made by the authority and some could, if necessary, be addressed by ministerial direction.

It is vital that this legislation be progressed as a matter of urgency. Its early enactment will clearly signal the State's commitment to the new institutional arrangements. We need to ensure that we have the authority in place for the 2003 season. Were we not to do so, it is the view of those most closely involved with driving the implementation process that we could be faced with the danger of organisational drift, lack of focus and uncertainty among staff and industry interests. That would of course be detrimental to the development of the tourism industry and to the credibility of the new authority. I am sure the House shares my concern that the positive momentum which has already been generated should be maintained.

Senators have raised a number of points relevant to the legislation, and I would like to deal with some of them. Senator Phelan and others expressed concern about the power of the Minister to issue directions to the authority regarding the delegation of functions and to issue policy directions. On a point of principle, it is important to have that power. Developments can arise which call for such delegation. The emergence of Tourism Ireland from the North-South co-operation process is an example of an important political development which had to be accommodated. The type of body to which the authority can delegate is restricted. With the exception of Tourism Ireland, they are all bodies over which the authority has considerable control. In other words, delegation is kept within the family.

As a matter of principle, I consider it essential that the authority conform to overall Government policy, and tourism policy in particular. As Minister, I am responsible for setting overall tourism policy, and I do not believe the authority should be free to ignore or depart from that policy. I do not believe it will, but it is important that I have the power to ensure it does not. This is a standard provision for other State agencies.

I fully agree with Senator Phelan about the importance of consulting with the unions and the boards of the two bodies. I have met the unions already. There has been an intensive consultation and preparation process over the past 12 months in order to minimise the possibility of problems, and this has involved senior management of the two bodies. Staff have been continually updated on developments, and that process will continue.

Tourism has done well in the Estimates for 2003. It has basically preserved its budget. Within that budget there has been a major increase – which I arranged – of 20% in allocation to the tourism marketing fund.

Although it is not germane to this Bill, Senator Phelan raised the issue of disability guides. My Department and Bord Fáilte have been in contact about updating the accommodation side of this matter at least, and I will look at the issue further.

Some Senators mentioned the terms of office of directors. A five-year term is not unreasonable in terms of general practice and it does allow for some continuity. There is also provision for rotation in the Bill and a two-term limit. I fully agree with Senator Quinn that we must continually update the nature and quality of our product to meet evolving consumer demand, a point echoed by other Senators. It is a topic we will have to address in the review of tourism policy. I also agree that numbers cannot be the sole focus. I said in my speech that we must focus on yield as well.

Senator Norris appears to be under a misapprehension about the North-South issue. Tourism Ireland is the all-island body for marketing; the authority is not. He and other Senators raised concerns about the quality of the visitor experience. I share some of those concerns but the solutions lie in areas outside my legal remit. Nevertheless, I and the new authority will do whatever we can to push things in a positive direction.

Senator Fitzgerland and others paid tribute to the great achievements of both Bord Fáilte and CERT. It is important that we put our appreciation of those achievements on the record.

Senator McCarthy mentioned the importance of Britain to our tourism prospects. I assure him it has played a central role in the recovery strategy launched by Tourism Ireland this year and that the British market has delivered handsomely. He was also correct in pointing out that the tourism industry must show itself to be a good employer offering good conditions to its employees. The image of the industry as an employer has improved enormously, and CERT has worked very hard with the industry on that aspect in recent years.

Senator Tuffy raised the environmental issue and Bord Fáilte's involvement. There are many activities and orientations with which the authority will be involved. Bord Fáilte has a long record of concern in the environmental area. It was probably well ahead of other State development agencies in this regard. The twin pillars of Irish tourism have always been people and place. The physical environment is one of our more fundamental tourism assets. Bord Fáilte's role under the planning acts will transfer to the new tourism authority upon the enactment of the legislation. Bord Fáilte's Tourism Development Plan 2000-2006 and its current product development scheme are infused with a clear environmental orientation. Nevertheless, it is true that the staff resources devoted to the environmental area have declined in recent years due to the priority given to international marketing. That process needs to be reversed. The joint Bord Fáilte-CERT group which laid the ground work for the merger earlier in the year recommended that the new authority have a strong environmental focus.

There is no question but that low cost access to this island is critical. In this context, I am working with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, and we have been speaking to airlines about this matter. As was correctly pointed out, I am not responsible for Aer Rianta.

The quality of the welcome was mentioned by a number of Senators. I agree it is important. We cannot take our visitors for granted and those who depend on tourism for much of their income would be foolish to do so. It is important to recognise the work of CERT in terms of ensuring that the staff at the coalface have as warm a welcome as possible for visitors.

Senators Feighan, Kitt and others referred to the less developed areas. In so far as the product is concerned, the new tourism development policy is strongly biased towards the less developed areas. We need to spread the benefits of tourism around the country. There is specific focus in the tourism product development scheme on developing niche products in the least developed tourism areas. I expect the authority to have a strong focus on spreading the benefits of tourism. Bord Fáilte Éireann's Tourism Development Plan 2000-2006 identified the causes and major areas in relation to this.

Senator Henry and others mentioned the need to improve and develop facilities and services at Dublin Airport. The authority, as well as I, will keep a sharp eye on all issues which impact on access and arrivals. With regard to the Senator's specific on baggage trolleys and so on, I will ask the Minister concerned to take that up with Aer Rianta.

Competitiveness was mentioned by a number of Senators. I will repeat my views on this, which I have set out on a number of occasions. If we lose our competitive edge, we will suffer. Competitiveness remains a central concern and it will be a central concern of the authority. It will be central to the review which, among other things, will be undertaken in respect of the industry. I have said on numerous occasions that it would be easy to ignore problems such as this, to pretend that they do not exist, but if problems exist in the industry, it is necessary to address them. If we do not, we will lose some of our market share. We are trying to increase it, not reduce it.

Senators Dooley and others mentioned the need for closer liaison between transport and tourism policy makers. This has been a particular priority of mine and will continue to be so. I note what he had to say about Shannon Airport. It is of immense importance that we not only improve low cost access to this country but that we particularly improve access to it from the United States of America. I had a number of discussions in America regarding this issue. While I welcome the return of the Aer Lingus Washington-Baltimore-Dublin route, it is of pivotal importance that we also attract other airlines. I am confident that we will have some success in this regard in the not too distant future.

Senator Bannon and others mentioned the question of regular tourism structures. Once the authority is established and bedded down we will examine the regional structures. I agree that the issue of co-ordination of effort and resources needs to be examined. Many people have made the argument that there is currently too much duplication in the industry. When resources are not as plentiful as they were previously it is necessary to ensure we act with regard to developing and promoting our product in such a way as to maximise the resources available.

I thank all the Senators for their comments and support. Senator Paddy Burke spoke of the interaction between agencies promoting Ireland abroad. This is addressed via the foreign earnings committee which is chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Michael Ahern. I understand he is very much involved in this.

With regard to foreign marketing and a new logo, Tourism Ireland has its own logo for foreign marketing and there is no intention to introduce a new one.

Over the past year or so, we have been involved in the most radical overhaul of our national tourism agencies in decades. They are embarking upon one of the most fundamental reviews ever to take place in the history of the industry. Over the past 11 years we have seen an investment in Irish tourism in the region of €4.3 billion between the public and private sectors, and this was a worthwhile investment. From small beginnings tourism today is a major player in the economy. It is our second most important industry, directly employing 150,000 people and generating foreign revenue earnings in excess of €4 billion and €1.2 billion in domestic earnings. Tourism is set to become our largest industry in the not too distant future. Therefore, it is appropriate at this time to take stock, consider the product we have developed and decide where we go from here.

At the commencement of this new millennium, the industry is at a crossroads. It is crucial we take the right road in terms of improving access, developing our marketing strategy, improving our environment and infrastructure, improving the skills which are so important at the coalface of the industry, making the product even more sophisticated, dealing with the structures and making them fitter and leaner for the marketing battle which lies ahead. Underlying all this is the recognition that the industry has changed worldwide. It is a tough old world. One must hustle for business. One must be in the marketplace and be aggressive in terms of such marketing. One must have a product of the highest quality and one that is competitive. The passage of this legislation will help us to achieve those objectives.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 3 December 2002.