Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Ceisteanna (13, 14)

Damien English

Ceist:

100 Mr. English asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the timescale for the first report of the high level implementation group established to drive forward and monitor the report (details supplied) of the Tourism Policy Review Group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6155/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

134 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will report on his address to the Tourism Action Plan 2003-2005 Implementation Group, at its inaugural meeting of 5 February 2004; the precise role and remit of the implementation group; the number of times it will meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6134/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 134 together.

On 14 January last, I announced the membership of a high level group to oversee the implementation of the initial two-year Action Plan for Irish Tourism, recommended by the Tourism Policy Review Group in its report, New Horizons for Irish Tourism — An Agenda for Action. Mr. John Travers, who chaired the Tourism Policy Review Group, will chair the implementation group. The other members are Philip Furlong, Secretary General of my Department, Jim Murphy, managing director, Prem Group, Michael O'Donoghue, managing director, O'Donoghue-Ring Hotels, Eileen O'Mara Walsh, O'Mara Travel, Raymond J. Rooney, businessman, and Paul Tansey, economist.

In line with the recommendation in the report, the high level group will advise me on the implementation on the Tourism Action Plan 2003-2005, publish reports on its work, results and deliberations at six-monthly intervals, and sit for a period up to the end of 2005. Under its terms of reference, the group will capitalise on the current impetus for change and modernisation within the public and private sectors, to ensure that the action plan is seen as an integrated set of actions. It will work in partnership with the tourism industry, the key State agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, and relevant Departments highlighting, in particular, constraints to progress, and make recommendations on how best they might be addressed, and by whom.

The implementation group, which has agreed to meet monthly, held its inaugural meeting on 5 February last. In addressing the group, I expressed my appreciation of its willingness to advise and assist me in what I regard as one of the key objectives in terms of my tourism portfolio. I highlighted the co-ordinated and partnership approach that underpins the terms of reference, and mentioned my belief that, in the years ahead, the tourism agenda will be influenced heavily by developments in the wider economy and by the potential for concerted action on the part of the tourism industry itself. I said that I believed the group would be in a strong position to influence the wider agenda in support of future sustainable tourism development. The first report of the implementation group will cover the period to end July 2004 and I would expect to receive it before the end of August.

I welcome the Minister's response. I have absolute confidence in the chairman of the implementation group, Mr. John Travers, and the other members of it to carry out their work effectively and efficiently.

This is a practical report and I hope it will not gather dust as previous reports on tourism have. The Minister did his best to ensure it will not. The report has some 77 recommendations. How does the Minister propose that the implementation group will advance the proposals in regard to infrastructure? I refer in particular to the N69, the N86 and the Ring of Kerry road? The Minister travels the Ring of Kerry road on a weekly basis and he will be aware it is in bad condition. Given the strong recommendation in regard to infrastructure in the report, how does the Minister propose to ensure there will be further investment in these main tourist arteries, which are national secondary roads, when road funding is being directed at our national primary road system?

It is true that funding is being directed at our national primary road system and unquestionably there have been considerable improvements in recent years. I accept it is true that national secondary routes require attention. I have strongly lobbied for the inclusion of the Ring of Kerry route and the Dingle-Tralee route in the national development plan and they are included as specific tourist routes which should require funding. The hope is that between now and 2006 they will receive further funding. They have received funding in the past, some of it substantial.

Regarding the implementation of the more than 70 recommendations in the report, the implementation group has been asked to implement these in the manner outlined in the report. The report is unique in that it not only sets out the key objectives but also the methods for their achievement. I expect the group to follow the report guidelines on implementation.

Will the implementation group work solely through the Minister's Department? Regarding roads, is it within the group's right to approach the NRA or a specific local authority when following certain recommendations, or must it work only through the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, with the infrastructure created in that way? Is the group an independent body which can make representations to ensure that the more than 70 recommendations are implemented? Is that within its remit?

It would be helpful if I set out the terms of reference of the group. The group will advise the Minister on the implementation of the tourism action plan 2003-2005, publish a report on its work, results and deliberations at six-monthly intervals, and sit a for period up to the end of 2005. It will capitalise on the current impetus for change and modernisation in the public and private sectors to ensure that the action plan is seen as an integrated set of actions requiring a co-ordinated impartial approach across Departments, agencies and industry towards implementation. The report will discuss with lead actors their operational plans for, and commitment to, the implementations of actions falling within their remit, including effectiveness indicators against which performance will be measured. It will: highlight any constraints to progress and recommend how they might be addressed, and by whom; recommend any changes that should be made to the action plan in light of experience as it is rolled out; and contribute to the evaluation of the tourism strategy in autumn 2005, or earlier if the tourism environment proves to be more volatile than anticipated. This step will be a milestone in the ongoing review process which will be an inherent element of the development process for the industry in the future.

Another key recommendation involves access rights to land. The Minister may be aware of a recent court case where a farmer was imprisoned because of a problem he had with people walking on his land. Does the Minister envisage the implementation group proposing new legislation to clarify access rights for visitors to the countryside, and is that a priority? Going on information I have received, the problem is going to become more widespread right across the country.

Access to land, and walking across land, is of immense importance because of the number of people who participate in that exercise in the country, including people from abroad who come here for that purpose. The issue comes under the remit of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to the extent that it impinges on rural life. I understand that he has set up a group to look at means by which the problem of access to land for walkers can be resolved, and I hope its efforts are successful.