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 Header Item Tourism Industry Issues (Continued)
 Header Item North-South Ministerial Council
 Header Item Other Questions
 Header Item Penalty Point System

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and I have met, both together and separately, with representatives of the Irish Hotels Federation on several occasions. The Deputy has rightly identified the serious problems facing people in the sector. As he knows, however, it is for the Minister for Finance to make a decision as to whether any of the initiatives to which he referred are included in the Finance Bill. It is an issue that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has taken up with the Minister for Finance, as have I.

I agree that debt restructuring is a major concern for hotel owners. Some of them would be coming into profitability in the next year or two were it not for their debt burden. The Deputy is also correct that this is a particular problem for hoteliers in rural areas as opposed to in the cities, where there has a been significant improvement in occupancy rates. The recent initiative to reduce VAT and PSRI has proved successful in creating extra jobs in the sector. I acknowledge, however, that serious issues remain, including over-capacity and below-cost selling of bed nights. As I said, we are engaging with the Department of Finance in order to see what can be done. Ultimately, however, it is a matter for the Minister of that Department as to what specific measures are introduced.

North-South Ministerial Council

 5. Deputy Sandra McLellan Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will provide an update on discussions held at the meeting of the North-Ministerial Council in tourism sectoral format on 28 November 2012 in Armagh, including discussions regarding Tourism Ireland's business plan for 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [57752/12]

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I attended the 13th meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in tourism sectoral format in Armagh on 28 November. The Northern Ireland Executive was represented by Ms Arlene Foster, MLA, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and Ms Carál Ní Chuilín, MLA, Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Tourism Ireland's chairman, vice chairman and chief executive officer also attended.  

The meeting provided a good opportunity to discuss tourism performance for the island of Ireland to date in 2012, including the overseas marketing highlights of the year.  In terms of the future, Tourism Ireland's business plan for 2013 was discussed.  We also had a very useful exchange on major tourism events and initiatives planned for next year. Obviously, our main focus is on The Gathering, while the focus in Northern Ireland will primarily be on Derry-Londonderry's designation as United Kingdom city of culture and the World Police and Fire Games which are being held in Belfast. A paper dealing specifically with the Great Britain market was also discussed. The work of the tourism recovery task force was welcomed and agreement made that the recommendations of the GB Path to Growth strategy will be implemented by Tourism Ireland in 2013 and beyond.  

The meeting also provided me with the opportunity to invite the Ministers, Ms Foster and Ms Ní Chuilín, and their relevant officials to EU Presidency-related events we will be hosting next year. It was agreed to hold the next tourism sectoral meeting next spring.

Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Tourism is specifically identified in the Good Friday Agreement as one of the key areas for North-South co-operation and consequently one in respect of which the North-South Ministerial Council meets in sectoral format. The aim of the council in this particular format is to make decisions on areas of common policies and approaches specifically as they relate to tourism. These include policies and actions to be implemented by Tourism Ireland, the body with responsibility for promoting the island of Ireland overseas as a tourist destination.

The previous meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in tourism sectoral format took place on 25 January 2012. Among the issues on the agenda at the most recent meeting of the council, on 28 November in Armagh, were, as the Minister of State indicated, Tourism Ireland's business plan for 2013, major tourism opportunities North and South in 2013 and a review of this year's visitor numbers to the island of Ireland. Will he elaborate on some of the discussions that took place in regard to the business plan and the tourism opportunities?

The Minister of State mentioned the tourism recovery task force that was formed early in 2011 with the aim of ensuring growth in inbound tourism. It includes representatives of Fáilte Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland and is expected to make recommendations to the council. Will the Minister of State provide specific details of the recommendations made for 2013?

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring It was a great experience for me to attend my first meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in its tourism sectoral format. In particular, I was pleasantly surprised at the way in which participants worked so closely together. Both North and South, we are all aware of the importance of tourism to the island as a whole. We spoke about upcoming major events in the sector, including The Gathering, the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast next year and Derry's designation as the United Kingdom's city of culture for 2013. We also discussed the efforts being made to win back some of the British market. Despite a very successful 2012 in general, the reduction in the number of British visitors represented a weak link, particularly given that it is the most important market for both North and South. In addition, we discussed the business programme to be put in place for next year, which will include an aggressive marketing campaign in Britain to win back some of the visitors we have lost in recent years.

  The most pleasant aspect of this discussion was the evidence of how well we are all working together, the common denominator being our desire to attract people to the island as a whole. I was delighted to have the opportunity to engage in discussions with the Deputy's colleague, Ms Ní Chuilín. I have invited both Ministers, Ms Ní Chuilín and Ms Foster, to participate in the major tourism conference that will take place from 7 to 9 March, inclusive, during Ireland's Presidency of the European Union. We hope to assist them in any way we can, and vice versa, in meeting our joint objective of attracting visitors to the island.

Other Questions

Penalty Point System

 6. Deputy John Browne Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the changes he plans to make to penalty points; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57197/12]

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly This year marks the tenth anniversary of the introduction of a system of penalty point offences in this country.  Earlier this year, the Department undertook a review of the system to determine whether any changes would be appropriate.  The finalised review was forwarded to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications for its consideration.

Several adjustments to the current system were recommended. These include an increase in the number of penalty points for speeding, holding a mobile telephone phone while driving and seat belt offences from two, or four on conviction, to three and five, respectively.  The review also included proposals to bring additional road traffic offences into the penalty points system.  For some offences, such as using a vehicle without a test certificate, penalty points will apply rather than a direct summons to court.  

The Minister accepted the recommended adjustments and primary legislation is now required to give them effect. It is intended, therefore, to introduce a road traffic Bill in the Oireachtas early in 2013, which will make the necessary provisions, with the intention being to publish the Bill in the new year.  In the meantime, the general scheme can be viewed on the Department's website.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I thank the Minister of State for his reply and assure him that Fianna Fáil will be happy to support the changes that are proposed. It is a positive aspects of politics in this country that road safety was not hijacked by any political party, with the previous Government receiving considerable support from the then Opposition for its efforts to develop an effective road strategy. In fact, one of the most positive achievements of the Legislature in the past ten years is the success we have had in terms of reducing incidents of death and injury on the roads and the consequent positive impact in terms of the treatment times within hospitals.

Having said that, it is incumbent on us, on an ongoing basis, to raise this issue in the House. It is only by keeping road safety always in the spotlight that we will continue to see an appreciable effect in terms of raising public awareness. It is particularly important as we head into the Christmas period that people are especially mindful of the need to show due care and attention on the roads.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I could not agree more with the Deputy's last point. I also take on board his reference to efforts by previous Governments, in co-operation with the Opposition, in this vital area. We can never be complacent in this regard and must always seek to improve existing legislation. That is why, following on from the assessment of the Oireachtas committee, the changes we are proposing will be introduced in the Bill to be published very early in the new year.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace My colleagues and I have called for a public inquiry into allegations of malpractice in the administration of the penalty points system.

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