Dáil Éireann - Volume 495 - 20 October, 1998

Tourist Traffic Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The purpose of this Bill is to increase the statutory limit on the aggregate amount of Exchequer grant aid which may be paid to Bord Fáilte to support tourism capital development works. Funding for this purpose is provided to Bord Fáilte under subhead B2 of the Department's Vote. Provision for this statutory limit was first introduced under section 2 of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1975, and most recently amended by the Tourist Traffic Act, 1995, which increased the limit to £22 million.

Taking account of the 1998 B2 Estimate, this limit is set to be exceeded before the year ends. The Bill proposes that the limit be increased to £50 million to enable continued payments to the end of the year and in future years. The Bill does not imply any commitment to provide funding at any level, nor does it commit the Government or the Oireachtas to any financial commitments, including the continuation of any particular grant scheme. The provision of capital funding to Bord Fáilte will, as always, be considered by this House on a yearly basis in the context of the annual Estimates and the budget.

[707] In addition to the periodic reviews occasioned by these statutory limits, legislative and procedural changes in recent years have created further new opportunities for the review of Bord Fáilte's expenditure. These developments include the establishment of select Oireachtas committees dealing with Vote expenditure, and the making accountable, under the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993, of the heads of semi-State agencies, including Bord Fáilte, to the Oireachtas for the achievement of value for money.

From the point of view of our economy and the Government's strategy for its development, Bord Fáilte is working in one of Ireland's most important and vibrant economic sectors. Irish tourism has seen a dramatic acceleration of growth over the period 1986-96 after steady but unspectacular growth over the previous 15 years. This growth has continued consistently for more than a decade. The World Tourism Organisation has reported that over this period, total foreign earnings from tourism in Ireland have grown by 370 per cent, compared to between 95 per cent and 191 per cent in other EU countries. This growth has contributed significantly to the creation of a more mature, dynamic, expanding and profitable economic and business sector.

The number of overseas visitors has increased from 2.4 million in 1988 to more than 5 million in 1997, a significant increase by any standards. Tourism is now our second biggest industry. The Celtic tiger's most vivacious cub supports almost 120,000 jobs — one in 12 of the workforce — and when domestic tourism is taken into account, it generates almost £3 billion annually.

With such economic indicators it is easy to see that tourism has become a vital force in the Irish economy. The industry is performing at an unprecedented level of success, with new records being achieved each year in visitor numbers and in the yield in overseas revenue. Figures released by the Central Statistics Office for the first six months of this year confirm that growth in visitor numbers from abroad is running ahead of target at almost 11 per cent, and the available figures for revenue are up by almost 13 per cent. These are phenomenal figures by any standard.

Bord Fáilte estimates on tourism revenue over recent years show that growth rates have been achieved in all regions of Ireland which are better than international and European annual averages. The continued promotion of a good regional spread and an extension of the tourism season are vital elements in our tourism policy, and while it is clear that we cannot direct tourists to areas where they do not wish to go, we can encourage and promote the beauty, quality of facilities and all-round attractiveness of our lesser known regions. To this end, last year I sought from this House an additional £5 million for special international marketing with a specific regional emphasis. Some of these initiatives targeted a range of advertising, publicity and other [708] activities in the area of niche marketing on activities such as angling, golf, equestrian and walking. Another dealt with providing additional funds to integrate and supplement local and regional marketing activity, consistent with national destination spend.

Advancing the seasonality profile of Irish tourism has also received support with the promotion of early season events such as the national St. Patrick's Day festival. This festival has gone from strength to strength in recent years. I congratulate the St. Patrick's festival committee under its chairman Michael Colgan on the work they have put in and their commitment to its future. I hope this festival will be an occasion people will wish to visit in the future. I wish to quote from an article in The Irish Times of 31 March 1998 by Frank McDonald. This is an excellent article which epitomised what has been achieved by the St. Patrick's festival. While understanding that Ministers have to be abroad on St. Patrick's Day promoting the country, the article states:

Ministers might have had their eyes opened had they been in Dublin on the night before St. Patrick's Day when the four elements — earth, wind, fire and water — converged in magical street theatre in the heart of the city on College Green.

It was the night Dublin became a European capital city.

It was an unbeatable spectacle. The four elements gyrated through throngs of people, each trying to outdo the other, as figures waved huge white flags from the parapets and forecourt of the Old Parliament and a battery of rocket launchers on Trinity College's roof let off yet another fireworks display.

The Americans who had come expecting something more traditional were taken aback. It was all just a bit too “foreign” with not a leprechaun in sight. We have come so far. Seven years ago, when Dublin was European City of Culture, the organisers wanted a fireworks display at the Custom House. There was every reason to do so, as Gandon's greatest masterpiece had just been beautifully restored in time to celebrate the bicentenary of its 1791 completion.

The timidity of the times meant that any fireworks display could only take place in non-central locations, such as the 15 Acres in the Phoenix Park or in Dublin Bay, because of irrational and unfounded fears for “public safety”. Dubliners were denied the vision of a fiery spectacle with the city as a backdrop.

Seven years on, to mark the opening of the St. Patrick's Festival, we have matured to stage the biggest fireworks display Ireland has ever seen right in front of, and over, the Custom House. It must have cost Aer Lingus a fortune, but that dazzling, unforgettable half hour in the hands of the Theatre of Fire was worth every penny.

The city was back, centre stage.

It was, in many ways, a celebration of how [709] far it has come in under a decade. In 1991, there was not very much to celebrate but this is no longer the case. Dublin today is different and there was a real substance in this year's St. Patrick's Festival. It was not merely veneer to cover over the cracks.

I am pleased this House had the foresight to approve support for these initiatives. The response of the industry at large, and the regional tourism authorities in particular, has been very encouraging. Following consultation at local level, the representatives of the regional tourism authorities have been involved with Bord Fáilte in producing literature in various languages to promote their individual regions; promoting new business in new markets; providing support for the various product marketing groups on a regional basis; assisting in the construction of regional tourism internet sites and exhibiting at the various international trade fairs what the individual regions have to offer.

These are just some examples of where industry, working in conjunction with the regional tourism authorities and Bord Fáilte, can put in place sound business strategies to successfully market their facilities. The evidence would suggest that those operators who apply professional marketing practices are winning market share over those who do not. For my part, I will try to ensure that the benefits of the continuing record growth in tourism are spread throughout the island as a whole.

The benefits of a vibrant and expanding tourism sector have led to continuing and increased emphasis on the sector as an engine for growth in successive national economic programmes. The results of this have become very evident to anyone travelling around the country in recent years. The discerning visitor can now avail of a new and disparate tourism infrastructure such as conference, leisure and all-weather facilities which have added a new dimension and quality to the type of tourism product available in Ireland. The scale of private investment which has flowed into tourism over the past decade is also highly evident in the development of hotel facilities and in the upgrading of accommodation and hospitality facilities generally to meet and even exceed international standards.

The current Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-99 includes provision to support the development in Dublin of a dedicated national conference centre which will be capable of handling up to 2,000 delegates and the Government has made the attainment of a final decision on this project one of its main priorities. The long process to identify a developer for this facility is now entering its final stages. At its June meeting, the Management Board for Product Development, the decision-making body for grants under the programme, decided on the proposal submitted by Spencer Dock International Convention Centre Ltd. to develop the project at a site in Dublin docklands. Under the terms of the programme, the agreement of the Government and [710] the EU Commission is required, on foot of a cost-benefit analysis, for projects of this scale. This cost-benefit analysis, which was favourable towards the project, was undertaken by independent consultants and, on 16 September, the Government agreed to the making of a submission to the European Commission recommending formal approval for a 33 million ECU grant towards the cost of developing the project. We now await the Commission's response which constitutes the crucial final stage in the grant approval process.

As we face the remainder of the decade and head into the new millennium, the challenge to create further economic growth and employment has never been greater. The targets for our tourism industry are ambitious and ongoing investment in marketing, product development, training and visitor services is vital to maintain growth in the face of increased international competition.

The substantial support of the European Union for the tourism industry over the past ten years has proved to be a sound investment. Some time ago, my Department produced a draft discussion paper on the development of tourism into the next century in the run up to the negotiations for post-1999 and the next round of EU Structural Funds. Preliminary consultations with the State tourism agencies and the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation have already taken place on these proposals and indeed on some proposals of their own. The objective of this exercise is to prepare the most persuasive case possible for the continued partnership between the Government, the tourism industry and the EU in the further development of Irish tourism.

There can be no doubt that the progress of the peace process and the improved prospect of peace and stability in Northern Ireland will be of substantial benefit to Irish tourism, not only in the British market but in our markets worldwide. Tourism's future requires that the principle of co-operation be at the centre of our policies and marketing decisions as we work together to promote the whole of Ireland in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

There is already much to build on in this regard as there has been significant cross-Border co-operation at both departmental and agency level for some time. At agency level, co-operation between Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has existed since the 1960s and this has been considerably strengthened and facilitated in recent years by the availability of financial assistance for marketing and product development from both the European Union and the International Fund for Ireland. In addition, there have been regular contacts and co-operation between the two Departments on a range of issues of common interest in the tourism area.

As we approach the new millennium, there will be a major focus on the twin issues of economic and monetary union and on finding the right way forward for the industry when the current operational programme for tourism ends. For the [711] tourism industry in particular, the introduction of EMU in less than three months' time will not only mean the adapting of our marketing strategies to the new scenario but the modification of computer technology and the provision of relevant training. With this in mind, a guide to the key issues of EMU has recently been produced as a co-operative venture between Bord Fáilte, CERT, ITIC and AIB, specifically for the tourism industry. This is of course in addition to the national EMU awareness campaign and other private sector packages.

Over the past decade or so, we have witnessed and indeed continue to witness the greatest programme of tourism infrastructural development in our history, which has involved huge levels of assistance from EU sources. This assistance, amounting to £220 million under the current operational programme, has played a critical part in raising the standard and quality of Irish tourism and in bridging the gap between it and international destinations identified in the two co-funded operational programmes to date. In view of the resultant progress achieved, it is probably unlikely that EU assistance will be maintained indefinitely. Industry self-sufficiency will, to a far greater extent, become the order of the day and this is a scenario for which we should be properly prepared. It is important, therefore, that with the advent of the euro we do not allow a perception to develop, especially abroad, that Ireland might be on the way to becoming a high priced holiday destination for foreign tourists. This means that everyone in the industry must resist the temptation to edge up prices here and there, for one service or another. I want our overseas visitors to be able to say they got good value and a fair deal in Ireland when they return home.

Earlier, I mentioned that the number of visitors to Ireland over the past ten years had more than doubled. Based on Bord Fáilte and industry growth projections for early in the next century, the number of visitors coming to our shores is set to rise to more than seven million by 2003. This will present us with a number of new and additional challenges with regard to environmental and congestion issues and in the provision of adequate visitor services. With this in mind, I launched a new initiative earlier this year under the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-99, seeking proposals that would serve to demonstrate how particular problems affecting tourism and the environment might be dealt with.

The intention of the initiative is to encourage projects which would point to ways of supporting tourism development while at the same time sustaining the environment on which it is based. Examples of the types of projects sought included visitor management schemes such as those proposed for individual sites, towns or cities, environment awareness projects and innovative litter control systems. I am pleased to say that this initiative has already come to fruition with a number [712] of projects recommended for consideration by the product development management boards.

With this increased level of visitors, it is important that the services provided by our tourist information offices keep pace with the changing times and increasing expectations of tourists, both domestic and foreign. Investment programmes are being undertaken by the regional tourism authorities to expand their network and to upgrade existing facilities. The major part of the moneys provided to Bord Fáilte under subhead B2 since 1995 has been allocated by the board to the regional authorities towards the implementation of these investment programmes.

Other areas which benefit from expenditure allocations by Bord Fáilte under subhead B2 include the development of regional tourist amenity signposting and regional heritage and tourist projects. This work has also benefited from European Regional Development Fund support under the current operational programme for tourism. By the end of the programme approximately £10 million will have been contributed by the State and the EU for these developments, including the provision of a new computerised system to improve the quality and efficiency of information and reservation services. The number of visits to tourist information offices last year was 4.3 million, an increase of 139 per cent on the 1988 figure of 1.8 million. Over the same period the number of bednights booked through these offices increased by 153 per cent, to 670,000. The tourist information office network is, therefore, a vital ingredient in the tourism infrastructure of this country, providing an after sales service to visitors as well as being a major player in the promotion of home holidays to Irish holiday-makers.

Section 2 deals with grant expenditure for the development of tourism related facilities and amenities. The existing statutory limit on grants of this nature is £22 million and expenditure up to the end of 1997 amounted to almost £21 million. The 1998 allocation for this type of grant expenditure is almost £1.1 million, bringing aggregate expenditure on amenity development by the end of this year to more than £22 million. The current statutory limit, last set in 1995, must therefore be increased to ensure completion of this year's amenity development programme. I accordingly propose that the limit be increased from £22 million to £50 million. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Perry: The mission statement of the Department is to contribute to the economic and social progress of society. I am very impressed by the Department's statement of strategy for the period 1998 to 2001, the three main points of which are to establish a sustainable tourist centre which champions high standards in marketing, service, quality and product development, an active culture in sport and recreation including the achievement of sporting excellence and an enhanced partnership approach to local development [713] with a particular emphasis on improving the quality of life of communities characterised by high levels of social deprivation. I believe the final point will prove effective in many areas and I am delighted it is one of the three main focuses of the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, as it is an area which deserves major attention.

The purpose of the Bill is to increase the statutory limit for supporting tourism capital development works from £22 million to £50 million. I am very concerned that as things stand there are no grants whatever for the building of new hotels. There is a fund available for the renovation of old hotels, but there is little or no assistance for the building of new hotels which involves major capital development.

I welcomed last year's announcement by the Minister regarding blackspots in Sligo in the context of hotel development, something which has also been taken up in south Sligo. It is wonderful that this has taken place. However, in areas where the scheme does not operate there is little or no encouragement from Bord Fáilte to build a hotel. It costs up to £40,000 per bedroom to build a hotel, which means a 50 bedroom hotel would cost £2 million. It is regrettable that there is little or no support from Bord Fáilte for the building of new hotels and this issue should be examined. The tourism development market, especially the development of approved accommodation, should also be examined, particularly in Border counties.

Tourism is now firmly established as a key contributor to the economic prosperity of Ireland. Having languished in the doldrums for many years, in the past decade Ireland has witnessed an unprecedented expansion in the level of foreign visitors, foreign earnings and product investment. This is very welcome and the activities of the Department has been a spur. The contribution of tourism to the national agenda has been equally impressive. Foreign tourism is estimated to contribute in excess of £800 million annually to the Exchequer, while the rapid expansion of tourism employment is reflected in the fact that 80 per cent of all new jobs in the past five years have been directly supported by tourism. National policy objectives will call for greater job creation in future.

The biggest difficulty at present is getting people to work in hotels at weekends and getting people to train as chefs. I am in the licensed restaurant business and I know how difficult it is to get skilled people to work unsociable hours. The Department should encourage people on social welfare to work on Saturdays and allow them sign on on Sundays and still avail of their entitlements. This would encourage people to work in the business. A large number of people would be prepared to work in tourism but for the tax system. Married women, who are fantastic members of staff in hotels and restaurants, would gladly work evenings and Saturdays. However, the tax system is a disincentive to work. There should be an incentive for people in the hotel industry and [714] licensed trade to take on part-time workers and to encourage people to re-enter the trade. The strongest asset we have is our capable staff. Most visitors are very much impressed by the friendliness of Irish staff in hotels. The best person to work is a housewife who has her family reared, is at home and has time to spare. She could work for 20 hours per week which would be a major asset to the tourism industry.

Much of the development and investment in the sector has been assisted by EU Structural Funds under successful operational programmes for tourism. Direct State investment in promoting tourism has progressively reduced and in years to come EU funding will be very insignificant. The clear message is that the Lord helps those to help themselves. It is important that in the remaining years the funds we have are well spent in the areas of greatest need. After 2000 we will be in a huge marketplace and it is important that we are ready for the challenges.

We must highlight the need for improved management of Ireland's fragile tourism assets. There must also be a real appreciation by the Government of the key factors likely to impinge on our ability to continue to succeed in extremely competitive international markets. Such success cannot and should not be taken for granted. The Minister said the markets doubled over ten years, but we cannot take this for granted. We must encourage enterprise. The Minister is hoping people will take the risk of borrowing high risk money and working unsociable hours. There is little or no incentive for developers or business people. In certain business the proprietor can to endure all the pressure while employees have all the profit. There is much pressure and risk in taking on engagements, booking cabaret shows and pursuing niche markets. We see from last summer the extent of dependence on existing conditions.

We must define our key competitive advantages and, through high level research, identify potential high yield customers. We should go after niche markets as Ireland has a huge amount to offer. While we must be competitive there are people who can afford to spend. There must also be increased investment in marketing Ireland in its broadest sense, both North and South.

A number of weeks ago the Minister launched the marketing forum for Sligo. He saw at close quarters what a county marketing forum can do. I heard the very effective advertisement which resulted from the forum on radio today; it will attract people to Sligo.

There are 1.5 million people in the North who are looking to the Twenty-six Counties as a potential tourism market. We must recognise and exploit the opportunities presented by tourism for the creation of employment for many of our long-term unemployed. The Minister must undertake that job. Employers in this sector must be encouraged to recruit many of the long-term unemployed. Business is now perceived in a broader sense. Business courses provided in our [715] educational institutions focus on marketing skills and encourage people to take business risks and borrow the necessary money to set up their own businesses. We must encourage initiative and enterprise. If we do not foster those skills, we will have a confined market controlled by a small number of operators. We must be careful to spread the load and encourage students who will graduate in five years' time and people who are new to the market to set up their own businesses. We should encourage them to buy a restaurant, a pub or a hotel. We must create opportunities for people to go into business. Banks require applicants seeking a loan to set up their own businesses to have a good track record, the necessary work experience and to have completed a feasibility study in respect of the proposed business project.

In recent weeks the Doyle Hotel Group was sold to the Jurys Hotel Group. That is an example of big business getting bigger. While big business is superbly effective, I have the greatest respect for sole operators who provide a good service, are effective and adopt a hands on approach to management. We must ensure there is always a place for private enterprise and for the small operator to expand. If we do not, the growth of big operators will pose a threat to competition in trade.

We must develop national structures to address the fragmented nature of what essentially is a cluster of small economic units which aspire to industrial status. A group of hotels may not be under the same ownership, but they can be marketed together. There should be a cross-Border marketing of hotels in Northern Ireland and a marketing of hotels in Sligo to ensure hotel proprietors work together to promote tourism. Promotional funding should be provided for that purpose. An increase in investment in overseas and domestic tourism promotion is required. Domestic tourism promotion is important and the way it is promoted in Sligo is a good example of how it should be done.

Tax and social welfare barriers to job creation should be removed. Many people would like to take up work, but it does not pay them to do so under the current system. A husband would have to pay more tax if his wife were to return to work and her tax free allowance would decrease. A minimum wage of £4.40 is proposed, but major tax reform is required before that is put in place. Essentially, employees require an increase in their net incomes. We must not make it impossible for employers to take on staff. If they are required to pay employees £4.40 per hour, which is £200 per week, they will try to find ways not to create jobs. We must ensure it pays employers to take on staff and that it pays employees to take up work. Unless a proper system is in place, employers will decide not to create jobs because they will have to pay too much tax and employees will not take up work for the same reason.

The owner of two hotels in the west told me he [716] had to recruit two chefs from France because he could not get qualified chefs here to take up those jobs. There is something dramatically wrong with the system. It is important to be a good European and to recruit chefs from other countries, but that hotel owner did not recruit those chefs because they had training in French cuisine. He recruited them because he could not get people here to take up those jobs and he was prepared to pay them £10, £12 or £15 an hour. CERT training in this area must be reviewed.

There are many misconceptions about the tourism sector, but recent evidence indicates it is critical to our economic future. The agricultural sector is in crisis and farming as a future career is not a realistic prospect. Farming is perceived by many to be an occupational therapy because farmers require another job to run their farms. The Minister could assist farmers by promoting agri-tourism and making it viable to provide bed and breakfast accommodation. That would provide them with an additional income and encourage them to remain on their holdings. Having regard to REPS and the disincentives to farmers to progressively improve their farms, we must provide alternatives.

Coming from Donegal, the Minister will appreciate that the west has a great deal to offer rural holidaymakers. People from the middle of London travel to remote parts of Donegal or Sligo. They enjoy the remoteness and the peace and tranquility. If the agricultural sector was given assistance, it could develop agri-tourism. If we are to make that vision a reality, many traditional beliefs will have to be discarded and a new positive dynamic mindset adopted. We are lucky to have a Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation from a Border county at this important time in the history of our State when the changes in Northern Ireland have never been as great.

This week Dublin Tourism rejected Dublin Corporation's concept of imposing a room occupancy tax on hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments and I am pleased the Minister commented on that. The Exchequer benefits to the tune of £1.2 billion from tourism. It would be more appropriate to pledge additional promotional funds to promote tourism. That would be a sound economic decision because the Exchequer receives a great return on money invested in promoting Ireland as a tourist destination in America. If Dublin Corporation and other local authorities require additional funding, that should be addressed under the heading of local government finance. Tourists should not be used as a soft hit. That proposal sends out the wrong message and I am delighted the Minister strongly opposed it. We extend a céad míle fáilte to tourists, but it would be hypocritical to tax tourists who come to Dublin simply for that privilege.

Many new hotels have opened in Dublin. I compliment the McEniff Group on opening a fine hotel in Dublin and I wish it the best of luck. [717] Investment in hotels in Dublin is unparalleled in other European cities. Millions of pounds are being invested and up to £20 million has been invested in one hotel. They must be run in an efficient manner and Dublin hotels, collectively, should contribute to the promotion of Dublin, which is a very different tourism market from that in the west.

Will the Minister outline his plans to streamline the administration of European Regional Development Fund grants? It is unfair that applicants for those grants, who incurred substantial expense in preparing feasibility studies and market plans, were not told prior to incurring those expenses that there was very little funding available. That appears to be the case. Bord Fáilte's primary role is to market Ireland and it is welcome that the licensing of hotels and restaurants has been passed to a consultancy company. The primary job of Bord Fáilte is the promotion of this country abroad. The increase in capital investment for non-repayable grants from £22 million to £50 million is welcome. What grants are repayable and under what guidelines are they repaid? We must be careful to ensure there are proper guidelines to cover the allocation of grants given to operators. Projects must be viable and profitable and not driven solely by the fact that they qualify for grants. The Minister should provide some of that funding for seed capital to assist those who wish to set up their own businesses. The financial institutions will always back a winner. Often they will not consider an applicant who has a good feasibility plan.

Applicants for European Regional Development Fund grants, who have completed feasibility studies which may have cost £8,0000 or £9,000, often find there are no funds available, and such plans are often left in filing cabinets. The only ones who gain are the consultants. If the Minister were to check out the number of concluded enterprise feasibility studies in comparison to the number commissioned it would be one in ten. Before consultants embark on such studies the Department should say that it will recommend ideas for feasibility because in certain cases the consultants charge £25,000 or £30,000 and will not deliver the studies until they get their cheques, which are guaranteed. They are only interested in picking up a cheque after giving a glossy presentation when publishing the reports.

Access to the west of Ireland is most important for the growth of tourism in the area. It is most important that a quality road network is constructed to ensure it is possible to travel between Dublin and Sligo or Galway within three hours. There have been dramatic improvements along the N4 but the road running along the west coast from Donegal and Sligo through Galway and Limerick to Cork and Killarney should be upgraded as a quality route. I ask the Minister to make this a strategic priority for tourism.

The Minister was in Knock a number of weeks ago and it is important for tourism that people should be flown in there. I heard last week that [718] an airplane leaves Dublin Airport every two minutes. Unfortunately, Knock Airport only has three or four flights per day even though it can cater for the same aircraft as Dublin Airport. The Minister should ensure in terms of our regional airport policy that a number of direct flights from America land in the west so that tourists at least have the opportunity to visit there, though their final destination might be Dublin.

The Minister said that he wanted an enhanced partnership approach to local development with a particular emphasis on improving the quality of life of communities characterised by high levels of social deprivation. It is important that he lives up to that commitment. He should explore the merits of a designated tourism traffic channel, particularly for those who hire cars, which would not only highlight the dangers on our roads for tourists but also promote tourist attractions, etc. Unfortunately, the number of tragedies on our roads today is frightening, not only involving Irish people but also foreigners who drive on the wrong side of the road. However, an information channel could easily be introduced at little or no expense, particularly with the huge volume of traffic. Local radio could be utilised by the Department, taking up a daily slot to highlight the dangers on the roads.

Has the Minister plans to rationalise the duplication in spending of scarce American resources which occurs when county tourism organisations, regional tourism authorities and Bord Fáilte do not co-ordinate their activities? It has improved but it is important that he looks at it. It is time for Bord Fáilte to take on a wider role to ensure there is co-ordination by all organs promoting tourism so that everybody sings from the one hymn sheet.

The promotion of the domestic tourism initiative is most important in generating off season business. Currently, the domestic market provides the greatest opportunity for growth while the economy is doing well and this is encouraging people in remote areas to take a risk. Is it intended to continue the initiative in 1999 and will the Minister pledge more funding for it? I know he pledged £5 million and it has been worthwhile.

The tourism industry is expected to benefit most from the positive economic effect of peace in Northern Ireland to which the Minister referred. Cross-Border tourism co-operation has evolved over several years and there is potential with EU, US and Government assistance to further develop tourism. The Minister has a role in exploiting that in the area most affected — the Border counties, which have experienced a total dearth of tourists for 30 years. People in the industry who fought the battle in hard times with a burning ambition to succeed would not be here today otherwise.

While tourism in the north-west has grown significantly the region has fallen well behind the rest of the country. It is impossible to quantify how the region has been adversely affected by the [719] terrorist violence in its neighbouring counties and the negative image which this has portrayed over the past 25 years. The Minister is from Donegal and recognises the potential for growth in the area. There are fine hotels there and the McEniff group and others have fought hard. It is great to see that they have the opportunity to benefit now after the pain of the past number of years and the negative worldwide attention the Border counties received.

Nevertheless it should be noted that following the ceasefires inquiries to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board rose considerably. Economists estimate that employment in tourism in the North could double over a period of years from its current level of 10,000. Consultants have given an indication of the potential for tourism growth but it is estimated that the North's tourism revenue of £250 million could have been 30 per cent higher without the troubles. This shows what the 32 counties have to offer and the potential spin-off for the north west is considerable.

Reduced peripherality and the peace dividend increase the natural hinterland of the north-west to include a potential 1.5 million people. It will also have a significant impact on reducing the region's perceived remoteness. There is a window of opportunity to build a foundation for cross-Border investment while political and media attention is focused on the region. Unfortunately, there is little EU funding for initiatives currently. While there is £50 million available, I am not sure how the Minister will focus it on the Border counties. A reply to a parliamentary question a number of months ago stated there was only £430,000 available for the six Border counties in INTERREG funding. The British Government has invested £150 million in the North. Further funding must be anticipated under INTERREG initiatives. However, the Minister indicated that EU funding looks bleak in the years ahead.

The Government will look at other initiatives given that the British-Irish Agreement outlines the level of cross-Border co-operation that will exist. Hopefully, a fund will be set up to target the areas which have suffered the greatest loss over the past years. IBEC and the CBI, the joint business council, have acted as a catalyst to maximise the level of trade and economic co-operation on the island since 1992. It states that more than 600 firms have already participated in the council's business development programme, including many from the region.

Companies in the north-west reckon the new emphasis on North-South links can provide safeguards to ensure the Dublin-Belfast corridor is not pursued at the economic expense of the north-west. A balance must be struck.

The North-West Region Cross-Border Group is concerned primarily with public sector activities but has acted as a focus for a diverse set of private sector initiatives. The completion of the Internal Market and the abolition of customs procedures in 1993 created a single market on the [720] island. It completely changed the business environment in the region. Cross-Border trade links are not as strong as those with other member states. I appreciate Bord Fáilte is working with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board but every effort should be made to get the officers of the hotel federations and the vintner associations, among others, around the table to develop Cross-Border links and thus promote tourism.

The gap in employment costs has to be closed. Unlike here, the introduction of a minimum wage in the United Kingdom — £3.60 per hour — will be accompanied by major tax reform. The rate proposed here is £4.40 per hour. There are also differences in the area of business taxation, including VAT rates. This will have to be looked at if emphasis is to be placed on 32 county tourism promotion.

Mr. Ferris: This is a short but important Bill. I commend the Minister on its introduction. Its purpose is to increase the funding available to Bord Fáilte from £22 million to £50 million to support tourism capital development works. Bord Fáilte plays a pivotal role in the development of tourism which is fast becoming our most important industry. I pay tribute to Mr. McNulty on the work he has done at home and abroad. When the excellent members of staff who were lost earlier in the year are replaced, adequate resources should be available to develop the industry and thus provide sustainable employment.

The leisure and tourism industry is growing at an unprecedented rate worldwide. Ireland stands to benefit more than any other EU member state. According to the strategy report of the Tourist Industry Federation, by 2002 tourism will be our leading industry, accounting for 8 per cent of GDP and 16 per cent of the total workforce. It is crucial that all parts of the country benefit and that the needs of every tourist are catered for. As can be seen from the figures, there is a heavy concentration on one area. The Minister made a special allocation to the regional tourism organisations to ensure the benefits are spread more evenly. There are many tourist attractions in my constituency.

There is a labour shortage in the tourism industry. Hotels, restaurants and public houses cannot fill vacancies. Contributory factors include unsocial working hours, low rates of pay and the lack of training opportunities. CERT, the responsible agency, is producing highly-qualified personnel but is under growing pressure to meet increasing demand. I understand that with proper training there are up to 6,000 jobs available. There is a responsibility on us to ensure CERT has the capacity to fill these positions. With the promise of good job prospects many young people who find it unattractive to enter the labour force could be attracted to the industry by the offer of high quality training.

There has been much talk in recent weeks about regionalisation in the context of EU funding. [721] As Deputy Perry said, there is a need to distribute tourism income more evenly throughout the regions to prevent rural decline. I object to the proposal of Dublin City Council to introduce a room tax. Last week the city manager mentioned that a similar tax has been introduced in Spain. The documentation I have received in the meantime confirms that there is no such tax. The proposal has been submitted to various Ministers, including the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. It would set a dangerous precedent to introduce such a tax to subsidise infrastructural developments which is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, either directly or through the rating structure. It should not be seen as a fundraising exercise. If underpinned by legislation, every other council would have the authority to introduce various taxes to tap into sources they consider ripe for picking.

I hope that when the committee makes the final decision on this next week it will reject it and ask the Government not to accept any such proposal. It would constitute an unfair playing pitch for those who compete in the tourism industry and a double taxation on hotels and room owners since they already pay rates. This raises the spectre of unapproved accommodation. Obviously, only those who provide hotel or approved accommodation will be expected to pay this tax while people who provide unapproved accommodation will escape.

We must achieve a fairer distribution of hotel facilities throughout the country. In Dublin there has been a mushrooming of hotel accommodation but this is market driven. The provision of hotel accommodation and other tourist amenities in rural areas, however, is driven by tax incentives, rates incentives, urban renewal schemes and the like. The only way to get people with money to contemplate such investment is by providing tax relief opportunities. On the other hand the hotel industry in Dublin is booming and is market led. It is doing extremely well.

Everybody would like to see a fairer distribution of the tourism income to all regions. It would help to tackle the decline in agriculture, which has resulted in almost 5,000 young people leaving rural areas each year. At present, nothing of significance is being done to prevent this decline except, perhaps, through programmes such as the Leader programme. However, most of these programmes cannot be availed of by people involved in agriculture.

Investment in tourism in rural areas will go some way towards halting rural decline. Investment should be targeted at agri-tourism, heritage towns, outdoor pursuits, signposting and improved access by air and road to all regions. Urban populations as well as foreign tourists would welcome more opportunities to visit rural areas, agricultural museums, open farms and more opportunities to take part in hill walking and other outdoor pursuits.

[722] We have the necessary natural resources to make this happen but we need the investment and support of Bord Fáilte. The current concept is to keep rural areas open and our committee has received submissions from an organisation which believes in that concept. This means minimising the incidence of trespass and avoiding the development of a claims mentality. There are wonderful areas in my constituency and throughout Munster where there are tremendous facilities for pursuits such as pony trekking, hill walking and so forth.

National newspapers daily carry numerous advertisements for short autumn breaks in a multitude of locations throughout the country. However, the opportunities to avail of such breaks are limited for tourists who do not have access to a car. That must be taken into account when trying to coax people out of the cities and into the countryside.

Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and other transport providers must play their role in this regard. There is a need to develop a transport infrastructure to facilitate the development of tourism. It is worth considering the numerous disused railway lines whose tracks have been removed. These routes are lying idle and could be used for walking and cycling in safety, away from the national primary and secondary routes which are now so busy with agricultural and other traffic.

The Labour Party supports the establishment of cross-Border bodies to promote tourism. This is not only in keeping with the British-Irish Agreement but it also presents an opportunity to capitalise on the expanding tourism industry. The current situation whereby the North and South are marketed as two destinations is wasteful. Increased co-operation will encourage increased movement of tourists across the Border and to Ireland as a whole. I hope more progress will be made not only in the establishment of the Executive and in dealing with the other issues that have arisen but also in establishing cross-Border bodies. There is no better sector for full co-operation than tourism where there is already a high degree of co-operation.

The Minister referred to the operational programme which is due to conclude in 1999. My experience of making representations to Bord Fáilte under this programme was traumatic. Before the last election, I and other Members of the Oireachtas from my constituency made strong and well documented cases to the special select group in Bord Fáilte for assistance for the EXEL project. The Minister is aware of that project and saw the nucleus of it when he visited my constituency.

The select group gave us a blank refusal. It sought numerous items as well as changes in the plan, all of which were forthcoming at considerable expense to the local voluntary group promoting the project. Political agendas were adopted prior to the election and I was seen as having failed to deliver the balance of the funding necessary to progress the project. Last week, [723] however, the same select group of experts under a different Administration was able to give the go ahead. People are now swanning around the constituency accepting the credit for something that was purported to be the prerogative of an expert committee and not due to political pressures or representations.

I welcome the decision of Bord Fáilte to fund the EXEL project in full. It should have funded it from the start because the project will stand up to critical analysis and will be of tremendous benefit to a rural area such as Tipperary. When the Minister saw the project he supported it but it must be said that Bord Fáilte made it extremely difficult. I do not know how I managed to survive the election after that project but I am still a Member of the House and am able to talk about the experience.

Having thus rapped Bord Fáilte on the knuckles, it must be said that it does an excellent job of marketing this country abroad, sometimes in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I am aware, from first hand experience and through contacts with representatives in other countries, that the board does a magnificent job of selling this country. That is why proposals such as that made by the Dublin city manager make the headlines in places such as America. I have read headlines which stated that holidays in Ireland will now cost people £250 more because of the £3 tax. The tax is perceived to be in place and the sooner the Government publicly states that it rejects that proposal, the sooner tourists contemplating booking their holidays for next year will be able to decide that Ireland is still good value for money and that they will get a fair deal.

The contribution tourism is making to the economy cannot be underestimated. Last year it was responsible for generating £2.8 billion in our economy and, as a result of the work of Bord Fáilte and other groups working in tourism, five million people visited this country. I am sure the vast majority of them were happy with their visit. Ireland is a special place and no matter what one says about costs, prices and so forth, it is certainly a match for any other tourism location in Europe or throughout the world.

I commend the Minister on introducing this Bill. It has my full support.

Cecilia Keaveney: I wish to share my time with Deputy Haughey.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Cecilia Keaveney: Given that the purpose of this Bill is to increase the statutory limits on the aggregate amount of Exchequer grant in aid which can be paid to Bord Fáilte and to support tourism capital development works, it is to be welcomed and I commend the Minister on bringing it to the House.

The Bill is an example of the Government's commitment to the expansion of tourism, and I [724] congratulate the Minister. In the distribution of any extra moneys that arise from whatever source, I hope the bigger picture of Ireland is always kept in mind. Nationally the number of visitors to Ireland has exceeded 5 million and foreign earnings of £2 billion represent an increase of 9 per cent on the previous year. Unfortunately, the increase in visitors nationally has not been seen in every region. Some areas can say they had as good a summer as last year, but last year's summer was described as relatively poor. Tourist figures in areas like north Donegal are still relatively poor, and as a result the tourism product still has massive scope for development. Any extra support the Bill offers should be focused and targeted where it is most needed, though that need not particularly mean money. We must look at the overdevelopment of Dublin, and the matters debated day in day out in this Chamber, such as traffic congestion, the centralised nature of the city and the pressure this exerts on all those living here, never mind the visitor. No matter how many bed nights are provided, there are areas of the country where there are still not enough beds for those bussed and flown into them, while other areas remain empty.

Ireland is a beautiful island, and very few countries can boast the views, atmosphere, cultural heritage and historical sites that can be found from Malin Head to Mizen Head, and from east to west. There is no longer a justification for not having a more balanced spread of visitors; in that way everybody will win. I know that is the Minister's aim. I acknowledge the additional £8.5 million allocated for tourism marketing, and it is in marketing that regions like mine need support. I was utterly disgusted to read media reports on job creation in the area as recently as last summer which sounded as though electricity and outside toilets have not yet hit Inishowen and Donegal. Such negativity is extremely unfair and unwarranted.

Great work has already been done by the various tourism bodies on counteracting this type of reporting and on supporting the positive marketing of Donegal, as the Minister knows. Donegal can sell itself to the visitor who experiences it, but due to our location there have been many difficult years that I now trust have passed with the significant milestone of the British-Irish Agreement. Donegal, and particularly Inishowen, has in the past been too close to the troubles for the tourist. It has also been too close to the North for the Northern holidaymaker who wishes to get away for a couple of weeks. After the terrible trauma of August 15, I hope this issue has moved on, but the mindset that sees Donegal as too far and too poor has yet to be changed.

Last week I travelled by car to Cork to help a young woman, Sinéad Behan, to get elected to the Dáil. I wish her well, but it took me four hours to get from Dublin to Cork. On many occasions I have travelled from Dublin to Moville in less time, and Moville would be considered fairly far north even in Donegal. Donegal is only [725] as far away as one makes it. I see a need for a change in mindsets, but there is also a need for support for infrastructural access projects, among other matters. I am delighted that there is an airport in the county at Carrickfin, but I would look forward to the advancement of City of Derry Airport, which would serve the east and north-east of Donegal. There has been keen interest in a Derry to London air link, and we look forward to confirmation of this. I ask the Minister for his continued support in this regard; I know he is working with other Ministers to continue to ensure that this type of development is furthered, as it has great tourism and business potential for our constituency.

The need for a direct train service from Derry to Dublin is also obvious and would assist many other areas, relieving the congested roads into Dublin from both Derry and Belfast. Cross-Border interaction and interdependence is understood by few outside the region, but for those of us in Donegal North-East, what improves access to Derry improves access for us all, though “What Derry gets, we need too” may seem a strange statement.

I eagerly await confirmation that due to our fulfilling the criteria for Objective One status we will receive those funds. There has been much debate on how 13 counties are going to take something away from the other 13 counties, but nothing could be further from the truth. Under the criteria, Ireland can only receive aid in Objective One in transition status if it remains a unit, but 13 counties can be given full Objective One status if they are regionalised. I ask those who begrudge us something they cannot receive to look at the situation. For example, if the Six Counties were given Objective One status and the Border counties were not, this would cripple Donegal completely, as the Six Counties is our natural hinterland as well as our competition. The positive edge that Objective One offers has to be matched. I trust when we retain Objective One status that we will be able to develop our tourist infrastructure even further for projects such as the Inishowen 100, the coastal roads and maritime projects; the Minister will be aware of them.

I referred to access to the county, but once we have tourists in the county, it sells itself. The variety of scenery, inland and coastal, and the variety of activities can entertain the most active or inactive holidaymakers. The most basic tourist requirement is a bed, and the need for varied types of accommodation remains. I believe studies should be focused on and moneys directed to accommodation black spots. I congratulate the many entrepreneurs in Donegal North-East who have invested their time and money in developing tourist accommodation, often without a great deal of grant aid being available. They have created and sustained jobs for many local people and provided various towns and villages with an important focal point. However, there are still black spots, and we must look imaginatively at the development of a variety of accommodation [726] types with supporting funding being made available. I acknowledge that much work is being done on this issue, but certain specific areas need to be looked at.

Tourism accounts for 115,000 jobs, and Donegal is a county that has so much scope for development that it could absorb a large percentage of the 35,000 jobs the Minister is aiming to develop in the EU Operational Programme, if given the necessary support. Great ideas are continually coming forward from both business people and voluntary groups. Agencies like Bord Fáilte have frequently not had sufficient funding to explore them fully. I trust that the increase in finance included in this Bill will help continue the quest to increase the many projects that will deliver an expansion of the tourist season in Donegal.

I have mentioned the interdependence of Donegal with places like Derry. The development of an all-Ireland tourism concept is a vital consideration. The Minister mentioned the progress that has been made on a cross-Border basis. Funding programmes like the International Fund for Ireland and the European Union Peace and Reconciliation Programme have given great support to our region. I commend them for their work in the area.

The North West Region Cross Border Group consists of Donegal County Council, Derry City Council, Limavady Borough Council and Strabane District Council; they have worked together for well over 20 years as a cross-Border group and its tourism task team has seen the common problems we have as well as the success we can achieve working together. I encourage the Minister to support this group in its endeavours, be they the development of the car ferry from Magilligan to Greencastle, the Columban heritage trails that entwine the counties or other projects. The need for working together is seen within the counties too, and different organisations at various levels co-operate.

During the summer there were visible signs of the good work done by local historical groups and communities. For example, there were weekly festivals held throughout the peninsula; the commemorative plaque unveiled at Tramone — the point from which Thomas D'Arcy Magee fled from Ireland and later became such an influential character in the formation of Canada; the Wolfe Tone commemorations in places like Buncrana; the famine stones unveiled at various points in Inishowen; the Foyle Oyster Festival; the Charles Macklin Autumn School; the Ladies Open and Pro-Am competitions at Ballyliffen; and dozens of other events aimed directly or indirectly at attracting people to the area outside high season.

Given the volume of activity currently taking place, a certain level of co-ordination is needed to minimise duplication and help maximise the work being done, although I realise it is difficult to achieve a balance.

The Minister's heart is in developing tourism.

[727] We are fortunate to have a Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation who comes from our county because he is very aware of the great asset we have in Donegal North-East. I hope there will be a focused examination of the regions and that moneys are directed to the areas in which they are needed to ensure they are developed. We have a beautiful island and everybody should have an opportunity to see it all. Donegal does not mind being discovered.

Mr. Haughey: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Tourist Traffic Bill, 1998. It is a straightforward Bill which provides for an increase in the statutory limit from £22 million to £50 million in the aggregate amount of grant in aid that may be paid to Bord Fáilte to support tourism capital development works. The Bill also provides Members with an opportunity to comment generally on the tourism industry. All of us in this House consider ourselves to be experts on the tourism industry. Already the Minister has had at least 2,000 suggestions put to him in relation to tourism.

I want to deal with the proposal from the Dublin City Manager to introduce a room tax of £3 per bed night about which I am greatly concerned. I did not expect Deputy Ferris to make reference to this matter but it is a proposal which will have national consequences. I fully support the views of the Irish Hotels Federation in this regard that such a proposal will impact negatively on the tourism industry throughout the country, not just in Dublin.

This proposal will result in a further tax on visitors who are already over-taxed. It will increase costs for overseas visitors. Ireland has the fourth highest VAT rate in Europe at 12.5 per cent compared to France at 5.5 per cent, Spain at 7 per cent and Portugal at 5 per cent. A further tax will only provide another disincentive to visitors. The tax will also make Dublin less competitive internationally. It is a discriminatory, inequitable tax in that it will affect hotels and guesthouses while many other sectors providing tourist services will not be hit by it. It will affect a sector already contributing in the form of commercial rates and is an untypical form of revenue.

Many other countries do not have a similar tax in place. The tax will make Dublin an unattractive first stop for tourists and that should be of concern to all of us involved in the tourism industry, particularly those in the Dublin area. This proposal has already resulted in negative publicity for Dublin internationally. I accept that resources are needed to develop facilities for tourism, but this is not the way to go about it.

Has the Minister received any other advice in relation to the introduction of such a tax at a national level? I recall a kite being flown during the summer by some group who also proposed [728] that this should be introduced by Government at a national level.

Mr. Naughten: The Aran Islands.

Mr. Haughey: Ireland is attractive to overseas visitors because it is perceived to have a clean environment. Our green image is a major selling point but we need to carefully examine this perception. Any analysis of our environmental indicators would suggest that in comparison to other countries, our environment is only average. We need to examine the air quality in our cities, river and lake water quality, our waste management policies, the use of agricultural pesticides and fertilisers, to name but a few. We must not become complacent about our so-called green image. There is much work to be done to ensure our environment remains clean and healthy.

Most surveys indicate that tourists are aware of a litter problem in this country. The problem seems to be getting worse despite the passing of legislation such as the Litter Pollution Bill. Existing law is not being enforced. Local authority structures seem incapable of dealing with the problem and councils are not providing the necessary resources to clean up our streets and countryside.

The problem of litter is a scandal and has the potential to damage our tourism industry. One hundred years ago we referred to dear old dirty Dublin. I wonder how much progress has been made since then when one sees the litter problem that confronts us.

I want to pay tribute to the work of the regional tourism organisations — the Minister did so also in his contribution — and in particular to Dublin Tourism, of which I was once a member. Dublin Tourism has been to the forefront in initiating major capital projects, along with the local authority, such as the Tourist Office in Suffolk Street, the Malahide Castle tourist attraction and Newbridge House in the north county Dublin area. The tourism organisations are to the forefront in promoting and developing tourism in the various regions and they should be fully supported in that regard.

I congratulate all those involved in the Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race and the world's biggest annual sporting event, the Tour de France, which came to Ireland this year. Both events captured the public imagination and generated a great deal of publicity abroad for Ireland. They proved that Ireland is capable of hosting international sporting events in a friendly and efficient way, and we should continue to do that in the future. The tall ships race created a wonderful Mardi Gras type atmosphere in Dublin this summer.

The Minister also made reference to the St. Patrick's Day Festival which created a similar atmosphere. For many years, Dublin Tourism organised the St. Patrick's Day Parade on a shoestring budget. Its members did a good job with the resources available and I have no doubt that if they had sufficient resources they could have [729] organised a very successful parade. I welcome the change to a festival held over a number of days, which has been a success. Frank McDonald, in articles in The Irish Times, was particularly constructive in that regard, something to which the Minister referred in his contribution.

I welcome the progress made, albeit at a late stage, in relation to the national conference centre. I note what the Minister said about the proposal from Spencer Dock International Convention Centre Limited. I am delighted the development will be situated in the docklands. It is late in the day to be building such a facility, but it is to be hoped it will be built this millennium. It will be a major part of our tourism promotion.

I note what the Minister said about how tourism can damage the environment. Frank McDonald, in that same series of articles during the summer, referred to that and to how towns can be completely destroyed by over-development of tourism. That is something of which we need to be very conscious. I welcome the Bill and look forward to the future development of the tourism industry.

Mr. Naughten: I support the principle of the Bill which deals with the fastest growing industry which will, in coming years, be the largest, far exceeding agriculture. I am disappointed the Minister said the Bill does not commit the Government to increasing funding for Bord Fáilte and the tourism industry. Many more resources need to be allocated to capital expenditure within Bord Fáilte to promote the type of projects some of my colleagues mentioned earlier. Over the past 12 months, I have met with a number of potential investors interested in developing projects in County Roscommon. However, as there are no funds available at present from Ireland West Tourism, Bord Fáilte or the Leader groups, it is impossible to start many of the projects. If additional moneys were put in place, they would help initiate many of them.

The Leader groups have carried out a tremendous job over the years in promoting tourism and developing these types of projects. Sadly, much of the funding is now exhausted. There was also a problem with this funding in that the amount of grant aid it provided for tourism projects was low. It did not encourage people to enter the self-catering accommodation area of the tourism sector. A number of projects involving the rethatching of old houses, something which should be encouraged as it is a valuable skill which is dying out, did not bother to apply for Leader funds because, by the time all the paperwork was completed, only a small grant would be given. It was not worthwhile for the people involved to fill out the applications and bring their project up to Bord Fáilte standard because they would lose money. In the end, they abandoned the project and the house has now collapsed. The types of projects being funded and the amount of funding made available must be examined.

[730] The Minister is well aware that Roscommon and many midland counties have failed to obtain a fair slice of the tourism cake. Bord Fáilte must take a fresh approach to developing inland tourism. Non-coastal counties are only used as access to other tourist areas. One of Bord Fáilte's major objectives is to promote fair and balanced tourism on a regional basis, and this should include counties without a coast. These have been neglected in the past, being travelled through from Dublin to Galway, Sligo and Donegal. Foreign tourists must be encouraged to stop in these counties for a night or two. They need not stay a full two weeks. One or two nights of a stopover would be of major benefit to these counties and a huge boost to their tourism revenues.

Many of them have hidden tourist attractions which are not exploited to their full potential. For example, Roscommon has a huge potential for fishing and shooting holidays. I was informed recently by a person developing a project in the county that he had a contact in England who could bring a busload of fishermen to a specific area in County Roscommon every week. The problem was that there was no accommodation for them and adequate facilities do not exist for the development of the angling industry in the county. An inadequate supply of accommodation is inhibiting the development of the market in many inland counties.

While tax incentives for hotels in many underdeveloped counties are worthwhile, Bord Fáilte has a great deal of market research and promotion to conduct within the tourism industry and among tourists to ensure the incentives are availed of by developers. Bord Fáilte and travel operators should encourage people to see parts of hidden Ireland. There were problems in Kerry this summer because it was black with tourists, yet other parts of the country did not have many tourists. There needs to be a more even spread. Counties such as Westmeath, Longford and Roscommon have much to offer but are not being adequately promoted by Bord Fáilte.

One of the key issues in developing any industry, but especially the tourism industry, is infrastructure. The roads to Galway and Westport have been very poorly resourced. The road from Dublin to Westport is a national disgrace. It is very hard to encourage tourists in Dublin to hire a car and travel to the west when they must drive on such substandard roads. The same applies to the road to Galway. Investment in roads and the rail network, especially the lines to Sligo and Westport, must be examined. If the resources of the Department of the Environment and Local Government are not put into basic infrastructure, it is hard to encourage tourists to travel.

Signposting was mentioned by the Minister and Deputy Ferris and is a huge issue. Anyone who travels through the country will notice the lack of signposting. I do not know if it is due to vandalism or poor signposting in the first place. I came from Donegal today. There was a diversion and I missed a turn on the road. One would have [731] thought it was not that difficult to get from Donegal to Dublin and that the road would have been well signposted. We must be conscious of signposting for tourists. I was made aware of a person developing a small tourism project requiring the erection of five or six signs who was charged £26 per signpost per year by Roscommon County Council. It will not be worth his while to erect those signs; it is a huge inhibitory cost. The issue must be examined.

Other facilities such as sewerage must be considered. In County Roscommon, in Castlerea and Ballintubber, raw sewage pours into the River Suck, which is a major angling river. Another is Roscommon swimming pool, about which the Minister is fully briefed. If there is not an adequate swimming pool in the county, it is difficult to encourage families to holiday there.

One of major issues on the River Shannon is the shortage of moorings for people to tie their boats to so they can visit some of the villages along the river. The Shannon is a huge corridor for tourism and a huge asset for the midland counties which border it. A great many boats travel the river during summer, but there is a shortage of mooring spaces, in summer and in winter. A tax incentive or other device must be considered to encourage private developers. The development of a marina in Lanesborough is being examined. A valuable asset such as the River Shannon should be fully developed to exploit its full potential. Perhaps the Minister could examine that.

I commend an organisation set up in Knock to develop tourism in counties Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim. It is trying to encourage tourists to fly into Knock International Airport. There are problems with the amount of traffic in Dublin Airport and much of it could be diverted to Knock and Shannon airports. It would be a valuable asset to counties in the west.

One of the best ways to get tourists into a locality is by developing flagship projects and County Roscommon has the Hudson Bay Hotel, which is a tremendous asset. It is a tribute to what both Roscommon County Council and Bord Fáilte have done in developing that facility on the River Shannon. Another valuable asset in County Roscommon is Lough Kee Forest Park, about which I have written to the Minister. It has huge potential for development. It is one of the finest parks in the country. There are plans for a hotel which would be the kernel for developing tourist facilities for the north-west region, not just for County Roscommon but for the west and the north-west. It would bring people to the region and they could then go on to Counties Donegal, Sligo and Mayo. It is a huge asset but Coillte has been sitting on it for years. At present we are trying to push Coillte on this matter. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to get Coillte to make a commitment on this and to secure a hotel for that area. We have a site picked out already. We also need a commitment of grant aid for this [732] project. I am sure that both Bord Fáilte and the Department would be fully committed to this type of thing.

Tourism promotion is a huge issue for Bord Fáilte, one of the main reasons for its existence. However, many counties are missing out on tourism promotion by Bord Fáilte. For example, County Roscommon is not even on many of the tourist maps. Many of these maps do not make reference to any towns in Roscommon or to a road going through the county. How can we bring tourists to the county if there is no road leading to it? It is hard to get people to book into a hotel when there is not even a town or a focal point on the maps. County Roscommon is completely obliterated from many of the Bord Fáilte maps. Many of the midland counties are treated in the same way. They do not exist unless they are on a national primary route. I would ask the Minister to look into this.

Lough Kee Forest Park, to which I referred earlier, is another place which is not in any of the tourism brochures of Bord Fáilte. Issues like that must be tackled if we are to develop tourism on a regional basis, to which the Minister is committed. This Bill is about putting capital expenditure into these types of projects but we cannot do it unless there is basic promotion. We are fighting an uphill battle. I ask the Minister to look seriously at the regional policy of Bord Fáilte.

We have a valuable asset in our local radio stations which can be used for tourism promotion. In the south-east the local radio station is doing a tremendous job. It advertises on signposts that tourist information will be broadcast on the radio at certain times. We should look at developing that promotion through all local radio stations.

We need to look at new ways of developing tourism in many of the underdeveloped counties of the hidden Ireland like Roscommon. The county has a strong heritage background. There is Clonalis House, Strokestown Park House and the King House in Boyle, which was the former capital of Connacht. Places like these need to be developed and promoted, as do golf and walking holidays if there is to be a regional basis for tourism.

Bord Fáilte needs to take the initiative in relation to the driving on the left campaign which has been run for a number of years. About 12 per cent of accidents in Ireland involve a foreign driver, which is not to say that 12 per cent of accidents are caused by foreign drivers. There are not enough signs highlighting the danger of driving on the wrong side of the road. Some of the budget to which the Minister referred should be put into this type of promotion. Signs should be erected to inform incoming tourists that they must drive on the left hand side of the road. Information should be provided in hotels and in all brochures, especially those in aircraft. A section in brochures should set out the driving regulations and procedures in Ireland because the car hire companies have failed us on this issue. We must look seriously at how we will tackle this problem. The [733] figure of 12 per cent translates into a considerable number of accidents and the Government is committed to improving road safety.

I ask the Minister to meet with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and look into the possibility, which we debated at the Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation, of giving relief on car tax to the car hire companies if they install devices, such as audio warning devices, to warn people to drive on the left hand side of the road. These devices are being developed at present but the car hire companies say they are too expensive. If we reduced the tax for cars which have these devices installed, everyone could benefit. We could reduce the number of accidents on the roads and there would be a net benefit to both the tourism industry and the population.

I cannot let this debate go without mentioning Objective One status, to which the Minister is committed. He spoke about the European perspective on funding the tourism industry and about capital developments, etc. I am sure he is well aware that unless Objective One status is retained in the west, the midlands and Border counties, the Government will be restricted in the amount of funds it can funnel into developing the tourism industry there, it will be restricted in the type of tax designation which it can give to these areas and it will restrict Bord Fáilte in the amount of funds it can distribute in these regions. I hope the Minister will put those issues on the Cabinet table. There is no point in talking about a Bill which will promote tourism capital expenditure unless we have Objective One status because, as the Minister knows, we will be limited to the amount of funding we can provide for this type of tourism.

The Minister, Bord Fáilte and CERT need to look seriously at the jobs crisis in the tourism sector. Deputy Perry mentioned that one hotelier had to bring in chefs from France. The issue is becoming more serious every day. I doubt there is a hotel in Ireland which is not short of staff and would not take on staff in the morning if they could get them. If we are to develop this industry, we need to have staff. The shortage of staff is one of the key issues which will develop within the tourism industry over the coming years. Now is the time to tackle that through Bord Fáilte, the Department and CERT. It should be promoted because the two biggest industries, farming and tourism, which are seen as the poorest paying industries in Ireland, are the kernel of economic activity in every county outside the main urban areas. The farming organisations need to look at the promotion of their industry and the same thing needs to be done within the tourism industry to promote it as a viable industry with career prospects and well paid jobs. This is a serious concern for many people. I ask the Minister to look into this issue.

I commend and support the Bill, but I ask the Minister to ensure that further funds are provided by Bord Fáilte and that it looks on a regional [734] basis to promote counties such as Roscommon and Longford. The Hudson Bay Hotel in County Roscommon is advertised as being in County Westmeath, which speaks volumes for Ireland-West Tourism.

Mr. Collins: I wish to share time with Deputy Coughlan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Collins: Notwithstanding the fact that there are only three sections to the Bill, it is important legislation and must be supported in an effort to implement the national tourism policies of this Government. I commend the Minister for introducing it.

The purpose of the Bill is to increase the statutory limit from £22 million to £50 million on the aggregate amount of grant-in-aid that may be paid to Bord Fáilte to support tourism capital development work. The proposals in the Bill will not involve the recruitment of additional staff. This subject is of deep personal interest to me, given that I have been involved in the tourism business for many years. The industry is going from strength to strength but that brings with it some problems which need to be ironed out. The remarkable growth in the tourism industry in the past decade represents an important chapter in the success story of the modern economy. The increasing number of visitors to Ireland each year and the increasing foreign revenue makes a significant contribution in terms of prosperity and jobs.

A report by the Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that between 1994 and 1999, over 30,000 jobs will be created in tourism-related jobs in Ireland. This means that the tourism industry is developing and prospering and it is most likely this trend will continue in the next few years. Between 1994 and 1999, £369 million will have been spent under the Tourism Operational Programme. This accounts for over 8 per cent of the overall budget of the EU Structural Funds being spent in Ireland during this period. This money has helped to develop the tourism industry in recent years and the growth potential is there for the future.

The Government is formulating a national development plan for the years from 2000 to 2006 which will be forwarded to the European Commission outlining our social and economic investment priorities for the seven year period post-1999. This plan is being organised in the context of the negotiations which will take place at European level, relating to the drawdown of the next round of EU Structural Funds.

Irish tourism should continue to receive EU Structural Funds under the next round of EU moneys to consolidate, underpin and develop progress which has been made in this sector in recent years. If one considers that between 1994 and 1999 over 30,000 jobs have been created in [735] the tourism industry alone, how many more jobs will be created in this sector during the seven year period post-1999, under the next round of EU Structural Funds? There is no reason the tourism industry should not receive a similar percentage of EU Structural Funds during the period 2000 to 2006 as currently. We recognise the amount of EU Structural Funds will be reduced during this period but the tourism industry must not be forgotten or neglected when the national development plan is finally submitted to the EU Commission for its consideration.

I wish to turn to another issue which relates to the need to develop the domestic tourism market in Ireland. While the increase in the number of foreign tourists is welcome, we must not and cannot lose sight of the importance of developing the domestic tourism market. This market is worth 24 per cent, almost one quarter of our overall earnings from tourism. Last year tourism earnings from the domestic market amounted to £671 million, an increase of 16 per cent on the previous year. That is an encouraging statistic. It means our own people gave a resounding vote of confidence in Irish holidays, to the tune of nearly £700 million. It is up to all of us in the tourism industry to ensure this trend continues. Many more people take an overseas holiday but with the strength of our economy, growing numbers are in a position to take a second holiday or an extended break. An added attraction for the industry is that these extended breaks are usually taken in the off-peak season. We have to spread the message that there is no more attractive place for that break or that second holiday than right here in Ireland.

It is important that all regions and sectors of the tourism business share as far as possible in the successful growth of our tourism industry. With that objective in mind, Bord Fáilte and our industry partners must mount a special effort to promote off-season holidays, short-term breaks and a second holiday for the autumn and winter period. I welcome the fact that the regional tourism marketing initiative is continuing and that £500,000 is to be spent on TV, radio and press publicity promoting off-season holidays.

In considering the overall performance of tourism, we must take account of the major expansion in accommodation. This year the number of registered guesthouses is 422, last year it was 377; town and country homes and bed and breakfasts have risen to 4,415, an increase of 358 and in the self-catering sector an additional 833 new premises bring the total to 6,151. In hotel bedroom capacity terms, the first six months of this year had an overall increase of 15 per cent. The substantial increase in accommodation is a vote of confidence in the ongoing growth of tourism. Despite any difficulties experienced due to weather or other factors this year, the task for the industry is to work together with Bord Fáilte and the regional tourism authorities to fill those rooms next year and in the years ahead.

The growth in the number of tourists has not [736] been achieved by accident; it is the result of investment in tourism products and marketing on a scale that is unprecedented in our history. Our strategy is based on a partnership between the State and the private sector to market Ireland aggressively in the international marketplace.

I turn to another issue which relates to the need to continue to invest in our regional and national airports to accommodate the increase in tourist numbers. Regional airports play a real and tangible role in bringing tourists to Ireland. The transport network of regional airports plays a constructive role in guaranteeing the decentralisation of tourist traffic in Ireland. We listened to the debate concerning regionalisation of EU moneys. Policies must be put in place which ensure that tourists travel to all parts of Ireland so as to pass the benefits of tourism spending nationwide.

To achieve this sensible, political and social objective, it is important that moneys continue to be invested in our secondary and county road network. If this infrastructure deficit was redressed it would play a part in spreading tourist traffic more evenly across the country. Various regions in Ireland must be marketed separately to maximise the number of tourists to different areas.

I welcome the recent Government allocation of £110,000 set aside for the marketing of the midwest region. The traditional strengths of Ireland in the marketplace are its people, scenery, cultural heritage and environmental quality. However the improvement in the range and quality of tourist facilities has added a dynamic new dimension to Ireland as a place to visit.

The increase in foreign tourists to Ireland has been boosted by developments in the peace process. We cannot deny that the violence on this island had an effect of rupturing our tourism industry. It is difficult to market a destination for holidays if violence is taking place in the country. Many Europeans and Americans refuse to holiday in Ireland because of the violence since 1969. Ireland is small in geographical size. Many prospective tourists refused to recognise that violence was primarily restricted to the counties of Northern Ireland and took the safe and easy option of simply ruling out Ireland as a holiday destination.

We all witnessed the horrors of war in the Balkans. Many parts of the Balkans have been untouched by the violence since 1992, nevertheless they all lost tourism revenue because people refused to travel there. Notwithstanding the protestations of some people, violence in Ireland has affected the tourism industry since 1969. Peace on the island should ensure we win back those tourists who refused to travel here because of the violence of the past 30 years.

There have been downsides to the tourism industry in recent years. The primary problem relates to the recruitment of staff where there are now wholesale shortages. It is a problem not only restricted to Dublin city. The growth in the industry has not been matched by a similar growth in [737] the number of qualified people to work in hotels. It is basically a problem of supply and demand where too many hotels in demand are unable to find an appropriate supply of staff. The Minister and CERT must look closely at possible ways of increasing the number of trained and qualified people in what was known as the food and beverages operations.

However, overall, the future is bright for the tourism industry. More people are taking holidays and leisure time is becoming increasingly important. The imminent arrival of the single European currency will lower the cost of holidays for European tourists as transaction costs will be eliminated and bureaux de change will disappear. We must take advantage of these changes in a structured and co-ordinated way so as to benefit the workings of the tourism industry to the maximum.

Ms Coughlan: I commend the Minister for introducing the Bill. I hope the increase in Exchequer grant in aid to Bord Fáilte will bear fruit in the coming years. When we speak about tourism we become parochial because we are here to represent our own county and constituency.

The tourism industry is now the second largest in the country. It will be in need of continued support from the EU and the Exchequer. In this regard the Minister will face the challenge of funding the expectations of the industry in the years ahead. There has been tremendous investment by the private sector, small communities and voluntary groups in providing a better tourism environment, such as small focal points in areas and heritage sites, and in trying to provide new facilities for tourists.

However, much of this work and the Minister's support for the regional spread and the expansion of the tourism season will be in vain unless the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the National Roads Authority work with him in providing a proper infrastructure for the regions. It is very unrealistic to expect people to travel across the country from Dublin or Shannon. Given the location of your constituency, Sir, you will be aware of how difficult it is to do this, or to travel from North to South without encountering problems of access.

Mr. Crawford: The N2.

Ms Coughlan: The interdepartmental aspect of providing a proper infrastructure to the regions will have to be looked at. It would complement the regional airports, which must be commended for making a huge impact in providing services for tourists.

We have a quality product and are doing our best to market it. Following the British-Irish Agreement I hope that we, in conjunction with Northern Ireland, will be able to market the island in its entirety and to use all the access points, including Belfast International Airport [738] and the ports. We should work together to provide a new impetus to the industry, especially in the north-west.

We in County Donegal were terribly affected by the troubles in Northern Ireland, although we have benefited from a thriving trade, where many people from Northern Ireland have taken their holidays in County Donegal and the Border regions. However, there will be challenges in working with the Northern Ireland authorities to ensure that we have a quality product and can compete with the large regions, such as Dublin. Dublin has expanded to the extent that I worry about value for money and the problems of overload in one county, to the detriment of the rest of the east coast. Every time one travels to Dublin a new hotel is being opened, which gives rise to concern about how beds will be filled. In addition, things have become very expensive in Dublin. In view of this, I support the Minister's views on value for money. If people travel to Dublin and see it is very expensive it acts as a turn-off and it then becomes very difficult to encourage them to travel to the regions.

With regard to training and the availability of staff, I agree with the view expressed by all speakers that it is very difficult to access good qualified staff in the tourism trade and in catering. Many people from abroad now work here as chefs, waiters and waitresses. From my experience in the tourism college in Killybegs I know it is difficult to get young people interested in the business. Anybody who has worked in the tourism trade and the hotel business realises that the hours are not nine to five and that working with the public is very difficult.

The way we attract people into the industry will be very important. One aspect will be to provide a proper wage for those working in the industry and to engender in them pride in what they do because it is they who extend the Irish welcome. We will have huge difficulties if people travelling to Ireland do not meet Irish people in the tourism industry. I hope CERT will work with the Minister in consultation with the industry to try to address these very serious problems.

One matter which is a bone of contention — I am sure the Minister is demented listening to it — is “deontasitis”. Everybody wants a grant, but there are many people in the industry, especially in small family-run hotels and guesthouses who have not received any support for the development of their produce. It is very difficult for them if they are to compete with large hotels which receive tax incentives, etc. While there are huge amounts of accommodation in some areas and it is difficult to fill beds, there are other areas where the Department, with the regional tourism organisations, should look at the strategic development of accommodation whereby grant aid would be given to upgrade small family-run businesses and hotels to provide what is now expected as the norm in the tourism trade.

If measures are introduced for one sector demand will multiply, nevertheless, there are [739] strategic areas where there is very little accommodation or where it is of less than desirable quality. We should consider an investment programme to support people involved in these areas. In consultation with the Minister for Finance, the Minister introduced an excellent programme for seven counties which were chosen for a specific investment. This has been very slow to take off and I hope those who are going to invest do so very quickly so that we can see the fruits of the work done by the Minister, his Department and the Department of Finance. This is a tremendous opportunity to invest in the product and I would like that to happen as soon as possible.

In regard to value for money, there have been a number of complaints about the cost of car rental. I know from travelling that it is less expensive to hire a car in Northern Ireland than in the Republic. We must address that problem if we are to encourage fly-drive tourism into the regions. It might be a difficult commercial decision to make, but there is great potential to help those who come here by making car hire less expensive.

Molaim an Bille atá ós ár gcomhair, molaim an tacaíocht atá á tabhairt ag an Aire don tionscal an-tábhachtach seo. Iarraim ar an Aire — agus tá Gaeilge mhaith aige fosta — gan dearmad a dhéanamh ar an dteanga nó ar na Gaeltachtaí mar tá siad san an-tábhachtach fosta don tionscal.

Mr. Crawford: I support the Bill. As many speakers have said, tourism is our second biggest industry. Unfortunately, if the current trends in farming continue, it might not be too long before it is our biggest industry. We welcome the Minister's proposals to allow the necessary funding to be made available to create an industry which can carry us into the next millennium.

As has already been said, tremendous movement has taken place on the island as a whole. However, as the Minister is aware, through no fault of successive Governments, we in the Border areas, especially Cavan-Monaghan which was not a traditional area for tourism, have suffered significantly from a lack of interest in tourism over the past few years due to the difficulties across the Border. It is to be hoped that peace, and the continuation of that process, will augur well for the future. None of us can afford to act in a single-minded way on this issue, as we have seen some individuals doing in this House and elsewhere recently. Peace is a very delicate issue and everyone will have to co-operate fully in trying to understand the other side if it is to continue. It was agreed some years ago that there would be joint co-operation between the Northern Ireland tourist authority and Bord Fáilte. The chief executive of the Northern Ireland tourist board comes from Clones and he understands what needs to happen if the two groups are to work together.

I do not have the exact figures, but bed nights in Northern Ireland hotels have dropped significantly [740] over the past 30 years as a direct result of the Troubles. We must hope that will not happen in the future. Tourism is one of the areas which can, and should, benefit most from the co-operation of the two Governments and the new structures which we hope will be put in place in the next few days. We in the Border region have a great deal to look forward to in that regard.

I was in Canada recently as part of a delegation from Monaghan County Council which was promoting the idea of tourists returning to trace their roots, in which there was a great deal of interest. It was clear from those who had visited Southern Ireland in the past that they did not get much encouragement when they arrived in Dublin Airport to travel to the North. They were advised about the scenery in Wicklow, Killarney, Galway and even Donegal, but there was no great enthusiasm for advising them to visit my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan.

We hope the joint co-operation between North and South will bring many North American tourists into Belfast Airport, which would automatically bring them into that region. Monaghan County Council and other bodies are trying to facilitate that co-operation to ensure we get those tourists for at least a few days. Some of the best hotels in Ireland are in the Border counties, particularly Monaghan, and we can certainly cope with the numbers that are likely to come. Belfast Airport and the Larne to Stranraer and Belfast to Stranraer routes will be very important connections for tourism in the Border regions in the future.

It will have a major impact if we get Objective One status for the Border regions. There has been a lack of finance for infrastructure. Deputy Coughlan, the Minister's colleague, and others on that side of the House have spoken about the difficulties caused by the lack of infrastructure. However, while Donegal has airport facilities, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will agree that Cavan-Monaghan has neither airports nor railways and the only access for tourists is by road — unless the Minister wishes to come by helicopter, which he is welcome to do. I realise why the Minister flies by helicopter to Donegal. There is no by-pass between Dublin and Monaghan, which is an indication of the difficulties we experience in getting business and tourists to our county. There are by-passes across the Border in Ballygawley, Omagh and Lifford but there is no by-pass in Monaghan, Castleblayney, Carrickmacross and Ardee and the area covered by the 30 mile speed limit gets longer and longer. It used to take me an hour and three-quarters to travel to Dublin but it now takes me between two and a quarter hours and two and a half hours. That will not encourage tourism. I accept that does not come within the Minister's remit, but he is a member of the Government and must ensure the roads are improved.

Deputy Coughlan referred to another important issue in Border counties, guesthouses and farm homes. As a result of the Troubles, we [741] have not had similar activity in that area as many other counties. While Leader and other funding bodies have been helpful in the past, there is no finance available from the funding bodies today to help people to set up guesthouses. That must be examined. I am glad the Minister for Finance is in the Chamber because he can help the Minister in that regard. The Celtic tiger must spread to the Border regions.

The lack of support for family run hotels is also a major problem. Many good family run hotels are trying to compete with other organisations which have received major funding for sports complexes and so on. This puts small family run hotels at a serious disadvantage. I have asked not just this Minister but his predecessor to address that matter. I am disappointed that successive Governments have not seen the need to provide that help. The staff issue is one which needs to be seriously addressed. I will talk about that at length when we return to this debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will have 12 minutes when the debate resumes.

Debate adjourned.