Tourist Traffic Bill, 1998 [Certified Money Bill]: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Thursday, 3 December 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 157 No. 11

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Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2.

Question proposed: “That section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney I am very grateful to the Minister for clarifying a number of points raised on Second Stage. With regard to the increases that are now being proposed, he referred to an aspiration he has that the Department of the Environment and Local Government should be requested to set aside a specific sum of money for other elements within their brief. In light of this I, and other Senators, commented on the poor quality of what are identifiable tourist access roads. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach will be aware, in rural Ireland these roads tend to be low volume county roads which are accessing into areas of scenic beauty, mountains, lakes, rivers, etc. Because of the prioritisation by local authorities over the past number of years — and thankfully we have been getting more money to address the entire road structure problem — the priority has been to identify those roads which carry a high volume of traffic, coupled with roads that need to be improved for the people living there. We all support that view. As a result many of these other roads which are low density by implication and which are leading into tourist areas receive no funding. There is also no specific heading under which they can be given funds unless the local authority decides to do so as part of their overall roads programme.

In light of the Minister's comments and his sympathy to the view that the Department of the Environment and Local Government should set aside money for tourist signs, would he also consider adding county roads that lead into tourist areas? Will he also ensure that there would be a separate heading which the local authorities would have to adhere to within their overall budget? Unless this is done, the only funding Border counties can receive for tourist roads is through INTERREG. As he is aware, INTERREG pays only for those roads which are [813] directly linked across borders. Perhaps this is only a problem in Border counties and in regions along the western seaboard because of their mountainous terrain but this issue needs to be addressed.

With regard to funding, the Minister clarified the position in relation to the lack of toilet and other infrastructural facilities. Can I take it from his remarks that, when a local authority prepares a plan and submits it, it will be considered? This Bill provides money for Bord Fáilte. Are these proposals sent to the Department or Bord Fáilte for approval? If these proposals are sent to Bord Fáilte how will they be administered?

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald I agree with Senator Mooney about the Minister's aspirations with regard to signposts and contacting the Department of the Environment and Local Government and setting aside a sum of money for this scheme. Special funds should also be provided to upgrade access roads to tourist sites, particularly roads with a low volume of traffic because they are neglected.

It is confusing to see 25 signs on the one signpost. Some of these signs are for different types of accommodation, all of which are necessary. There should be a separate signpost a few yards before the crossroads which advertise tourist facilities. These signs are confusing but they are also considered attractive by tourists, so much so that they are featured on postcards. These signposts also cause traffic jams, etc. Will the Minister provide a sum of money for this scheme or recommend my proposal to the Department of the Environment and Local Government?

Mr. D. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan Zoom on Denis Cregan There is no co-ordination between such organisations as Cork-Kerry Tourism, regional tourism boards, county tourism boards and Bord Fáilte, yet Bord Fáilte may receive £50 million for the development of tourism related facilities and amenities. I am saddened to hear the Minister say he has to speak to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to see if he can get proper signs. That is not fair on the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation or on us. There should be a co-ordinated approach adopted by both Departments which would mean that, if there is one sign relevant to tourism, it should be used in all regions. Everyone should do that or they will not get any money. If a local authority allocates money to Cork-Kerry Tourism, they want to promote Cork-Kerry tourism. Now County Kerry will do better because they will receive a higher amount of EU grants than County Cork and there will be petty jealousies.

Senator Quinn made very relevant points. A person can become very arrogant if the business is going well.

The Minister referred to the promotion of this island. We are very lucky to have excellent sports people. Unfortunately when Sonia O'Sullivan, an athlete, was taking part in race meetings she did not wear any Irish emblems. Another athlete, [814] Catherina McKiernan, did not wear any either when she ran in a race in Amsterdam but at the time there was conflict between her and BLE. She is the world champion in that sport. She wore sponsorship for Adidas. I attended a function where the golfer, John McHenry who was placed third in this year's Irish Open, was also in attendance. He spoke at the function and said that he had not received any assistance. He took part in the tournament but he was a guest of Murphy's Brewery for two days. He is an international golfer. Mr. Gary Murphy is another golfer but he is not a Corkman. These sports people can do so much for Ireland with a little assistance.

The World Cup was held in New Zealand this year. Ireland won this competition when it was held in Scotland. Our Irish representatives in the World Cup wore no Irish emblems. Why not? How much would it cost? A sum of £50 million will be spent but no one will ensure that sports people publicly state that they are Irish. Is anyone suggesting that the golfers Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley would not have liked to wear Irish emblems? I do not believe that. For instance, one golfer taking part in the competition wore a jumper from his local club which had the K Club emblazoned upon it. I am not suggesting that the K Club should not be promoted but if they are prepared to do it and it is broadcast internationally while there is nothing to represent us as an island, then we should ask Bord Fáilte the reason. Will the Minister ask Bord Fáilte why they are not doing this?

I do not object to the authorities or the PGA getting sponsorship. For example, the Swedish Government promotes its sports people and ensures that the best get the best training to ensure they will promote their country in the future. It does this for the Ryder Cup and other events. The Minister should compare the attire of Irish participants in the Ryder Cup with that of participants from other countries. This competition presents a golden opportunity for the promotion of Ireland.

While the Minister mentioned other participants in other sports, such as motor racing, there are many other opportunities available to Bord Fáilte. I have spoken to sports people who have made it clear they would be delighted to wear something that represents Ireland. If they can wear symbols of clubs and other organisations surely we can spend money getting them to promote Ireland? If a person appears on television for ten seconds it is enough. We should do everything possible to get those representing us at international sporting events to carry a symbol of the country, whether they be in quarter-finals, the semi-finals or the finals. The Swedes, Scots, Spanish and French do it, so should we. I do not refer solely to golf. Sky Television is world class. It annoys me to see people like Sonia O'Sullivan and Catherina McKiernan win international competitions wearing numerous symbols but none of Ireland.

[815] It will not be cheap, but it will pay off in the long run in terms of promotion. If £1 million was to be spent on our international sports people we would get value for money. We would also be assisting them in their careers to the point where they would not have to seek assistance from others. These people put a lot into their sports and they say the want to represent Ireland.

Senator Fitzgerald referred to the voucher system. I do not like the idea of a person presenting a £15 voucher that cost £18. I understand that local tourism offices do not take a percentage when selling vouchers.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald Tourism organisations, such as travel agents, etc.

Mr. D. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan Zoom on Denis Cregan Have they the right to do that? Is it suggested that because they promote Senator Fitzgerald's bed and breakfast they will get, say, 10 per cent commission while the voucher that costs £18 is only worth £14 or £15? We should not allow that. By all means invest £50 million in tourism, indeed we should invest £100 million to make it our biggest industry because the biggest industry in the country, farming, is in decline. However, in doing so we must ensure that the best visit the country and that they get value for money and are well treated. This is big business.

We depended on tourism when the economy was very quiet in the 1980s. We must, therefore, invest in the industry to ensure that it is properly looked after. We should not create situations which lead to people feeling uncomfortable. For example, if local tourism boards give information on local accommodation or scenic areas they should be able to distribute bed and breakfast vouchers. The local tourism board represents the people and not the vested interests in the industry. In this regard, we should be able to ascertain why prices are pitched at certain levels. Why, for example, is car hire so expensive here by comparison with other countries? We will rue the day when we allow those involved in the private sector to get all the benefits while the taxpayers, who invest in the industry, get no return.

If I wish to stay in the Cork or Kerry region I can attend the local tourism board in the Grand Parade in Cork or in Dingle or Killarney and get vouchers for all the bed and breakfasts I will stay at for the one price. We should have the same sign, the same price and the best service. The Minister should co-ordinate all players in the industry to use the one symbol and every local and county tourism board and Bord Fáilte should use it. It is necessary to simplify, to enable tourists to recognise the sign they know will help them with their visit. We should spend another £50 million on this.

Mr. Moylan: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan We all love to see the national logo, but we must also look at the managers and the main sponsors. They want their logo displayed in addition to the national logo. They [816] should be encouraged in that regard but, unfortunately, that is not happening.

The huge numbers who visit Clonmacnoise have a problem with the tourism office and with Dúchas. The Office of Public Works will not allow the tourism office take possession of the office used by Dúchas. An extension could be built. While the site is of great importance, co-operation could help remove what is an unsightly tourism centre.

With regard to the world trade tourism promotion in London, tourists visiting the county to fish and walk want to pursue other activities, such as golf. More co-operation is required among regional and county structures to ensure that visitors can be kept in an area. It is important, therefore, to develop the rural blackspots referred to by the Minister.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald On the question of runners and sports people, if a community applies for a grant under the national lottery, part of the agreement is that a sign is displayed saying the activity or whatever has been funded by the lottery. I suggest to the Minister that anyone in sport who receives grant aid should display the logo of Ireland. If they receive assistance in the form of a grant they should agree to wear the logo of an organisation such as Bord Fáilte.

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): Information on James McDaid Zoom on James McDaid These people are funded by the European Regional Development Fund which is also responsible for tourism. I am looking at the criterion where if a club or athlete receives a certain amount, they will have to display that they are funded by the national lottery. I agree with Senator Cregan that Ireland is now producing sportspeople who are competing at the highest levels and representing Ireland. We sit up all night supporting them. I have met a number of them on different occasions, but as Senators Mooney and Moylan pointed out, they all now have managers. It costs £30,000 for a logo the size of a pound coin on a vest and over £100,000 for the most minute detail on a racing car. I appeal to people to wear these badges and logos out of national pride.

Unfortunately there is now such huge commercial activity in sport that major sponsors have followed them into the sporting arena. Sarah Kavanagh and Damien Faulkner have appeared on the “Late Late Show” on a number of occasions. They have proudly worn the Bord Fáilte logo on their tracksuits. On their racing cars they have “Ireland — island of sport” written across the top of the car. I agree with Senator Cregan that Irish athletes should wear symbols which identify where they are from but it is massively expensive, particularly with major sporting figures.

Sport is a marvellous way to promote your country. On the Bord Fáilte video, which is excellent, Ireland at its best is depicted. In Germany recently, however, I found that there was not enough information about Irish people. I would [817] have liked the video to have been interspersed with images of Liam Neeson or Phil Coulter so it was made clear that they are Irish people. It costs a lot of money but it is worth it. I would like to see our sportspeople showing some pride by doing that.

We introduced a £1 million scheme for our best athletes. That scheme works on a grading system, which takes in junior and disabled levels, up through the ranks from £1,500 to £25,000. Our best athletes are now entitled to the highest grants in Europe. In the UK they get £24,000; in Australia Aus$15,000; in New Zealand $10,000, and in Canada $10,000. This is a scheme whereby our elite athletes qualify for grants if they have to take time off work or travel to another country. In some instances the athletes have large sponsorship deals so there had to be a cut off point and those in receipt of a certain amount of sponsorship would only receive half of the grant. That is in place for all our athletes.

Both Senator Cregan and Senator Fitzgerald mentioned the voucher system. I have asked my officials to examine this area. It has been used as a marketing tool by the Town and Country Homes Association among others but it seems there is some disparity in the situation. Senator Moylan mentioned the tourist office and Dúchas. I will also make inquiries into this area.

Senator Mooney raised the issue of signs. He said that local authorities should plan in their budgets for road signs and toilet facilities. The regional tourism authorities, which are funded by my Department, are responsible for tourist offices. There are normally toilet facilities at those offices for which funding is available from this year. Previously they were co-funded by the EU. The Department has discretion in setting up tourist offices. With regard to local authorities erecting road signs for tourists, that could be considered, although it would have to be co-ordinated with the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney Perhaps the Minister misunderstood me. I was talking about existing tourist attractions which have inadequate toilet facilities. What would be the position there?

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid Zoom on James McDaid I will check with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney A family relative of mine who is involved in one of the “Riverdance” productions is also involved in tourist promotion, under the aegis of Bord Fáilte, which is being funded by the Riverdance production company. I thought this was the norm but I understand it is news to the Minister and his officials. It led me to reflect on whether the Minister might consider, in light of the international impact of musicians such as The Corrs, Boyzone, U2 and The Cranberries, the appointment of a tourist liaison officer, under this fund, whereby an individual employed by Bord Fáilte would accompany a band on a world tour [818] whose remit would be to promote Ireland. As the Minister pointed out when he was attempting to identify well known personalities with Ireland, perhaps this might be a worthwhile way of using some of the money which will be available to the Department. The detail would need to be worked out.

I had experience of this for many years when I lived in England. Many Irish bands who toured various English clubs were sponsored by air or sea companies. Stena Sealink has been to the forefront in this. B&I sponsored a radio programme in which I was involved. This was directed mainly at the Irish in Britain. Ryanair and Aer Lingus continually sponsor Irish events in England. Usually they do this because they see it as a unique opportunity to access an English audience rather than a non-national audience. Many groups such as Foster and Allen, Daniel O'Donnell and others increasingly play to non-Irish audiences. Brendan Shine also springs to mind. These people do marvellous work for Ireland. I know this because I have been at many of the shows where they make no secret of the fact that they are Irish and proud of it. They do their bit for Ireland through their association with companies such as Stena Sealink, B&I, Ryanair and Aer Lingus.

In light of this experience, perhaps the Minister would broaden the approach to international acts. On a practical level, these companies made available tourism literature relating to Ireland. Brochures and vouchers were left on seats. In some cases there was an opportunity to win a prize, the prize being two weeks in Ireland with all expenses paid. It focused attention on Ireland because when the punter, as it were, sat down the first thing he or she picked up was information relating to Ireland. It was a soft sell.

The Minister is extremely pro-active in initiating innovative ideas on an ongoing basis. In that spirit of innovation, I suggest this might be a useful way of harnessing many international acts. I am aware that restrictions are placed on the Minister regarding management, production and sponsorship of sports people but national pride should enter into it. This might be a relatively inexpensive way of accessing an untapped international audience.

I am interested in what the Minister said regarding accessing of funds. I would like to think that during negotiations on the 2000-2006 operational programme the Minister will refocus funds. On the basis of the 1994-9 operational programme, there is a need to fine tune many programmes, specifically angling tourism. This is of particular interest in my part of the country. Angling tourism has been the Cinderella of tourism projects and has been largely neglected. There is great emphasis on game fishing and sea angling to the detriment of inshore coarse fishing. The allocation of £18 million was welcomed at the time but I understand that practically all the money was spent on game fishing rather than on coarse fishing.

[819] This came under the remit of the Department of the Marine and begs the question, is there a need for the Minister in the run up to the Programme 2000 negotiations to initiate his own turf war to wrest from other Departments areas that are directly tourist related? Part of the problem is that there has been an ad hoc approach to the tourism industry. There needs to be greater co-ordination. In the run-up to the Programme 2000-2006 negotiations on funding, perhaps the Minister would consider a refocusing of tourism. I presume the Minister is not happy with all aspects of the current programme and I am sure he will bring his own ideas to bear on the next programme.

Mr. D. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan Zoom on Denis Cregan A new golf course was built at the Old Head of Kinsale which caused some conflict. This is considered to be one of the finest international golf courses in the world. The person who was involved in developing this course invited me as a guest to play a game of golf on the course. He informed me that as a result of this development an extra 56 private planes landed at Cork airport this year. Others land at Shannon airport, play golf in Kerry and Killarney and then travel on to Cork. These developments must be welcomed. The impression must not be created that only a small number of people will use these facilities. That person told me that approximately 165,000 rounds of golf are played each year on the golf course at Pebble Beach on the west coast of America. He also said that he wants 120,000 rounds of golf played here. This is an excellent way to promote this country.

The Minister must not allow a situation to develop whereby local authorities charge people to visit Ireland. People do not just visit Dublin, they visit Ireland. People have contacted me from England and elsewhere to say that they cannot afford to visit Dublin anymore because it will cost them £3 per night extra. This situation should not be allowed to continue. Charges must be the same throughout the country. The Minister and Bord Fáilte are responsible for funding in this regard.

Traffic was diverted from Shannon to Dublin. I am not saying that Dublin should not be promoted. Dublin is doing exceptionally well. There are people who wish to holiday in the Dublin region and long may it continue. Local authorities should not be allowed to cream off the benefits of tourism. I believe John Fitzgerald is manager in the Dublin region.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid Zoom on James McDaid This Bill deals with capital spending only. Regarding the music industry, a liaison officer and national pride, national pride comes at a cost. I would like those involved in the music industry to do as sports people do and use that national pride. A product management board is dealing with the issue of marketing. I understand everyone would like to see this because the Corrs and others have made their name throughout the [820] world. We could possibly look at doing that; however, I do not feel it is as simple as that.

In regard to angling, as Members are aware, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources will implement section 3 of the operational programme. However, we have been trying to promote angling, particularly coarse fishing and fly fishing. Next year the European championships will be held at Lough Muckno in County Monaghan, to which I have already agreed to give money, and the world junior fly fishing championships will be held in Donegal. I agree with the Senator that, like golf, we should be promoting fishing more. I hope that with the new North-South situation, we will get many more tourists coming across the Border.

The Senator's example of the Old Head of Kinsale is a perfect example of what can be done through private initiative. They received funding under the operational programme. I congratulate them on having their video shown on the golf channel in the United States which, according to my information, resulted in 15,000 inquiries about playing golf in Kinsale and they had to have a meeting to decide how many they would allow to come. There are 56 extra landings at Cork Airport and such promotions can mushroom. It is a wonderful golf course.

In regard to charging visitors to Dublin, the Senator's Government brought forward the Bill which allows local authorities to levy such charges. This is a matter for the Ministers for Finance and Environment and Local Government. However, I have expressed my severe reservations about such a charge because I think it would be anti-tourist and unconstitutional. It has a long way to go yet and I do not know if its implications, both for the Constitution and the EU open market, have been properly thought out. There is a huge lack of information about this and I have expressed my severe reservations on it.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 3 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without recommendation and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be returned to the Dáil.”

Mr. D. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan Zoom on Denis Cregan I thank the Minister for this discussion. He is on top of his brief and very committed to getting extra money, which I am glad he was able to do. I know that money will be spent wisely. However, the Minister is the hawk who represents the people and he must be very vigilant in ensuring the money is spent properly. It is vital to our economy that we be seen to be doing things right and to put more things right in future. I congratulate the Minister.

[821]Mr. Moylan: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I, too, thank the Minister. The people in tourism to whom I have spoken recognise that the Minister's involvement has meant a new momentum in tourism. I compliment him sincerely on his work. This Bill will give him an opportunity to make real improvements on the capital side. We wish him well with those developments.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney I wish to endorse the comments made by my colleagues on both sides of the House. I thank the Minister who has been so innovative in the area of finance. I think this is the first time a Minister with responsibility for tourism has financed the regional tourism organisations. This Bill will allow the Minister to provide more capital.

It is timely that his colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, has come into the Visitors' Gallery. It is unfortunate he was not here five minutes earlier when he would have heard what the Minister will undoubtedly be telling him about this debate. I am sure there will be a meeting of minds, which will be in the interests of all, because they are two excellent men working in the interests of the country. I thank the Minister for his clarification and his patience.

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): Information on James McDaid Zoom on James McDaid I thank the Senators who took part in the debate. I assure my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who has just come into the Gallery, that we will have some correspondence as a result of the debate. However, there is nothing for which he will need further Exchequer funding. There is overlap between us on a number of ideas.

I have already told the tourism industry on a number of occasions that I come from a medical background and that I am not here to tell anyone what to do but to listen to their ideas. I am able to bring the ideas put forward in the Dáil and the Seanad about what is not right in an industry which is otherwise blossoming at present. I especially thank Senator Cregan for his co-operation in ensuring that all Stages of the Bill went through before 2 p.m.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 1.55 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.


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