Dáil Éireann - Volume 315 - 26 June, 1979

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Northern Ireland Tourists.

13. Mr. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if he is aware of a large number of cancellations by tourists from Northern Ireland due to the uncertainty of petrol supplies in the Republic and the action, if any, proposed to remedy the situation.

Mr. Faulkner: I presume the Deputy is referring to the petrol voucher scheme which does not cover Northern Ireland or domestic tourists. I have examined the possibility of extending the scheme but the Deputy will appreciate the enormous administrative and control difficulties which would make it impossible to implement. I am very conscious of the problems faced by the tourist industry and, so far as it has been possible, I have taken steps to alleviate the situation. Bord Fáilte through the regional tourism organisations have numerous information offices throughout the country where every assistance will be given to motoring tourists having difficulty in getting petrol. My information is that now the petrol situation generally has improved and Northern Ireland visitors should not have any problems.

Mr. O'Keeffe: With respect, the Minister evaded the main part of the question. Is he aware that there have been a number of cancellations from [883] people in Northern Ireland because of the fears about petrol shortage and because the scheme did not apply to people coming from the North?

Mr. Faulkner: We have no evidence to that effect, but, as I said a moment ago in reply to a supplementary question, there has been a general down-turn in advance bookings. Presumably some of these are from Northern Ireland. As I said, now with the postal strike ended and the improved petrol situation, we can look forward to an upsurge.

Mr. O'Keeffe: As I was in Belfast last week and as I spoke to people there who have cancelled their holidays, this alarmed me. Because of the evidence that the Minister has and because of the personal evidence which I can produce to him of people who told me that they had cancelled their holidays, would he consider even at this stage making petrol vouchers available to tourists from Northern Ireland?

Mr. Faulkner: As I have pointed out, there are very considerable problems relating to it, as the Deputy will agree.

Mr. O'Keeffe: I accept that.

Mr. Faulkner: I would not agree that the Deputy's speaking to a small number of people in Belfast would justify putting down a question here to ask me if I was aware of a large number of cancellations.

Mr. O'Keeffe: I was told that there are a large number of cancellations.

Mr. Faulkner: The Deputy may have been so told but there is no evidence to that effect. I am not denying that there possibly is some reduction but at the moment nobody need worry about petrol. The petrol situation has improved very considerably and I see no difficulty——

Mr. O'Keeffe: While appreciating that there are difficulties in extending the voucher scheme to tourists from the North, would the Minister consider that it could be extended by a little effort by [884] having them made available, say, through tourist offices, travel agencies and car-hire firms, to people who can produce some legitimate proof that they are coming on holidays here and not merely coming across the Border for a spin?

Mr. Faulkner: The Deputy has put his finger on it. It would be very difficult to do that. If tourists from Northern Ireland find themselves in difficulty they will get every help possible from the various tourist offices throughout the country. The Deputy is aware that the large majority of tourists from Northern Ireland go to north-west Donegal or to Dublin. I do not see why there would be any problem, particularly now that there is a very much improved situation in relation to petrol.

Mr. O'Keeffe: In view of the fact that petrol in the North is cheaper than it is here, nobody will come across to buy petrol. The Minister tells us that adequate supplies are now available. In view of that, surely there should be no risk involved in making vouchers available to people from the North if it is going to give them the reassurance to come down here.

Mr. Faulkner: I am giving them the reassurance that sufficient petrol is available.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Would the Minister back up that reassurance by making vouchers available to people who might doubt the Minister's word?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has argued the question long enough. I am calling Question No. 14.

Mr. White: Is the Minister aware that in a lot of towns petrol is issued only to locals? Can he assure the House that at least the tourists will get the same priority as the locals? This is a major problem that we are meeting as for as petrol is concerned, particularly in Donegal.

Mr. Faulkner: When I suggested, in reply to a previous question in this [885] House, that that was one of the purposes of the vouchers, I was scoffed at by the opposite side of the House. The Deputy knows that, while that was the situation some time ago, it is not the situation now.

Mr. White: Yesterday it was.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling Question No. 14.

Mr. White: Will the Minister issue a directive to ensure that visitors get the same priority as locals?

Mr. Faulkner: This is becoming a farce. It is not information that Deputies are looking for.

Mr. White: The Minister is making a mockery of the tourist trade.

Mr. Faulkner: We have a ridiculous situation here.