Dáil debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The following motion was moved by Deputy Mary Upton on Tuesday, 22 June 2010:

That Dáil Éireann:

noting that:

— in 2009 tourism contributed €5.2 billion in revenue - €1.2 billion benefiting the Exchequer in taxation;

— employment in the accommodation and food sector alone accounted for 119,800 jobs in 2009;

— Fáilte Ireland has estimated that for every additional €1 million spent by tourists an additional 23 jobs are created;

— tourism provides employment and economic opportunities in both rural and urban areas;

— tourism provides employment across a wide range of skill and qualification levels; and

— tourism is an indigenous industry so wealth generated by tourism stays in Ireland;

concerned that:

— the number of overseas visitors to Ireland dropped precipitously down 11.6% in 2009, a drop of almost 1 million visitors;

— an estimated 35,000 jobs were lost in the accommodation and food sector in 2009;

— the length of stay from overseas visitors declined in 2009 and that this fall occurred in all of Ireland's major markets;

— the Government has responded to this by creating further barriers to entry such as the air travel tax;

— the State continues to lag behind on broadband penetration which is essential to tourism in the 21st century and has yet to fully take advantage of the platform offered by the Internet; and

— the Government has refused to introduce legislation to allow for downward review of commercial rents which is causing huge damage to the tourism industry;

calls on the Government to:

— immediately abolish or significantly reduce the air travel tax;

— develop interactive Irish tourism applications for mobile internet devices and computers;

— develop Ireland's capacity as an eco-tourism destination;

— introduce legislation to allow for the downward review of rents;

— substantially improve access to and quality of broadband in Ireland, particularly in rural areas;

— ensure that the tourism marketing fund is protected as an investment in the tourism industry;

— improve processing times for visas for overseas tourists, particularly those from non-Schengen countries;

— develop policies to ensure Irish tourism is able to capitalise on the growth markets of the 21st century;

— ensure that institutions that are covered by the State bank guarantee are required to unfreeze credit for small businesses;

— ensure that all business within the accommodation and hospitality industry comply with employment legislation;

— ensure that the issue of potential distortion of the hotel sector by NAMA be addressed immediately by the Government;

— immediately address the issue of 'zombie hotels';

— establish a working group comprised of all interested parties in the hotel sector to draw up a framework to protect the accommodation industry without rewarding reckless investors;

— protect and develop the bed and breakfast sector;

— extend the Culture Night initiative into a twice yearly event; and

— review the functions, systems and efficiency of the semi-State agencies in the tourism sector."

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"— recognises that 2009 was a difficult year for the tourism industry in Ireland, as in other countries, with economic difficulties in many of our primary overseas markets leading to a significant decrease in the number of visitors;

— acknowledges that the report of the tourism renewal group published last October set out a clear plan for the survival, recovery and growth of Irish tourism, which the Government has been progressing;

— welcomes the priority given to tourism in budget 2010, which maintained investment in tourism marketing in real terms and significantly increased investment in product development in the context of a tough budgetary environment;

— acknowledges that energy costs have decreased, while changes made by the Government to the Joint Labour Committee arrangements have helped to reduce labour costs;

— welcomes the inclusion of tourism in a range of cross-cutting measures to support enterprises and jobs, including the employment subsidy scheme and the credit review system;

— notes that, bearing in mind the constitutional constraints which apply in this area, the Department of Justice and Law Reform has overseen the enactment of legislation which prohibits upward only rent reviews in leases entered into on or after 28 February 2010;

— notes that the Department of Justice and Law Reform will continue to liaise with tourism interests on visa matters to ensure that Ireland is an attractive tourist destination for emerging markets;

— believes that all local authorities should consider the needs of tourism businesses in their areas when setting their commercial rates and should ensure that valuations are up to date and realistic;

— supports the national broadband scheme which is bringing broadband access to all areas of the country, with major benefits for the tourism industry;

— welcomes the fact that decreases in the cost of accommodation and of eating out are helping to improve Ireland's competitiveness as a tourist destination;

— appreciates the scale of the current difficulties in the hotel industry that require market-led adjustments and notes that the tourism State agencies are providing business supports to help increase the customer base, to better manage costs and to improve overall performance and marketing, in particular on the web;

— recognises the importance of the bed and breakfast sector as a unique asset to Irish tourism and supports Fáilte Ireland's special bed and breakfast revitalisation programme;

— believes that the opening of the new convention centre in Dublin later this year will give a major boost to business tourism, while great potential also exists for the expansion of cultural and sports tourism; and

— is confident that with the right policies, increased competitiveness, better value for money, strong partnership between the public and private sectors and appropriate investment in marketing, product development and business supports, Ireland's tourist industry is well-positioned to return to growth.

- (Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport).

7:00 pm

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I am glad to make a short contribution to this debate. I come from the west of Ireland, where tourism is very important and where as many people are employed in tourism as in other industries. I come from a town that has 11 hotels and certainly, over the years, we have promoted our product. We have a great product and places such as Westport should be used as an example of how one brings tourists into an area. At a time when the town had two or three hotels, planning permission was required from the council to build additional hotels and people stated they would not survive. However, what happened was that it made them more competitive and caused them to increase their efforts to sell their product. As someone who lives in the town of Westport, I have noted the number of people who have visited it in recent weekends. Those who do so come for two or three reasons, namely, to get value for money, to visit most beautiful part of the country and because all the hotels are providing greater value for money. While they may not be making much money, at least they are trying to sell a product and to bring people into the area.

This evening, I wish to raise a few issues that the Minister should consider. First, she must talk to local authorities. They are not helping or promoting business in Ireland. At all times, they think businesses are soft touches, regardless of whether they are big or small. However, the day has gone when small businesses, such as hotels or those involved in the food industry or in tourism itself, can be a soft touch whereby local authorities in need of funding can simply levy that charge on them. Local authorities must learn to live in the real world. Businesses are struggling at present and are under pressure.

However, our tourism product is great. I believe I have only left this country once in 30 years. Personally, I go to County Kerry, which I love, as I do west Cork. I would holiday in my own locality but given the job I am in, I simply cannot do so. Nevertheless, Ireland has a great product. Although we may not have the weather, we have the facilities. One can golf, swim or walk. The Minister's colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, visited Westport recently and provided some departmental funding for walks under the smarter travel initiative. The Minister should see the walks that have been established around the town of Westport, as well as the number of people who visit from outside the county or the locality to sample these walks. The things that people want are all simple. The number of people who are cycling and are using such facilities is wonderful.

My point to the Minister this evening is that she must consider ways to try to help and support people in the hotel industry in particular with an emphasis on rates. Ways and means of reducing rates for such hotels must be considered. The expectations on such establishments are highly unfair in some cases, as some of them open for six months per year while others open throughout the year. They are crippled by water charges, rates and stealth taxes. Such businesses should be helped because they will be needed to get people back into the workplace, to promote our counties and country and to induce people to visit them. The Minister must speak to the Minister for Finance, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the local authorities to discontinue all the stealth taxes levied on small businesses. Tourism will be the product that will get more people into the workplace. It will play its part in getting us out of the current recession. We have the product, the country and the people and all that is needed is some support from the Government to help and promote businesses.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I support the motion tabled by Deputy Upton on behalf of the Labour Party. It is timely in the sense that figures for the past 12 to 18 months show a reduction in the number of tourists coming to Ireland. The essential point of this motion is that the Government cannot simply sit on its hands and cite the amount of money that has been spent on marketing and so on. We have wonderful resources for tourism. Like Deputy Ring, I am from County Mayo and from the west of Ireland and one great aspect of tourism is that many of the resources are located in places that are on the periphery, rather than in core areas. However, it is important that features such as landscape, beaches, water, activities, culture, sport, music or whatever all must be marketed to the maximum. My question is whether they all being marketed in the proper manner. While I am sure the Minister will cite figures on how much has been spent, could it be spent better? Could it be spent on a regional or local basis? I have in mind a few local and particular examples, such as the Ballina Salmon Festival, which was launched last week and which has a branding. In other words, I refer to the branding associated with particular areas. The Volvo ocean race event in Galway last year was driven and derived its sense of identity from the local area. As for the millions of people in the Irish diaspora abroad, sometimes the connection is better made from a local area rather than on a wider scale as a target that is too wide sometimes tends to be missed.

As Ireland is an island nation, the importance of accessibility is huge and the air travel tax has been a contributory factor. While the Minister makes the point that it is not the major factor, it is a contributory factor. For example, I wish to illustrate the importance of Ireland West Airport Knock as a contributor to tourism in the west. Goodbody's drew up a study for the airport recently, which revealed that 190,000 inbound tourists passed through the airport in 2009, spending a total of €62 million. This supported almost 800 jobs directly and indirectly and the potential in this regard is enormous. For example, there is a potential for €1.5 billion in revenue and 2.5 million bed nights in the region. Members can imagine the boom this would bring, were it possible to exploit it, both in County Mayo and throughout the west and north west. Moreover, this example pertains to one small regional airport. For all this to happen, the Government must be proactive, inventive and supportive of the tourism industry and I fully support this motion.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. The fact that 35,000 jobs were lost last year from the tourism and food industries serves as an example of the impact on this country of 1 million fewer tourists. This downturn clearly was caused by the economic problems in the marketplace. However, to some degree it also was caused by the travel tax and the State's failure to provide proper broadband in more rural areas, which is absolutely essential for tourism and constitutes a major disadvantage for small hotels and guesthouses.

The fact that Graeme McDowell won the US Open the other day cannot be ignored. He and Pádraig Harrington are fantastic examples of what can be done for Ireland and for the portrayal of Ireland as the world's golfing mecca. We must ensure that the recent great win and these great statesmen are used to our advantage.

Some people come to Northern Ireland just to see the Giant's Causeway and Belfast. In the current peaceful situation, I urge the Minister to ensure that Border areas are properly promoted by cross-Border structures. I was in Belfast the other day and was impressed by the tremendous willingness to co-operate among Government agencies. We must make proper use of that. ICBAN, the Irish Central Border Area Network, and the east Border region are already promoting that.

I welcome the fact that Bord Fáilte is considering taking Cavan and Monaghan out of the western region, which includes Donegal and Sligo, because we never got fair play there. When the new region is set up, I hope a better effort will be made to promote tourism because we have much to offer. We have 11 first class hotels, from the Slieve Russell in Ballyconnell to the Nuremore in Carrickmacross and all in between. There is also tremendous lakeland, hills, walks and many other attractions and facilities such as Castle Leslie. I could go on. People try to make out that there are not tourist attractions in those areas but we have the hotel structures along the Border area. We can work with Northern Ireland. I urge the Minister to ensure that when she is engaged in cross-Border talks that we maximise INTERREG and other funds to build up a tourism industry of which we can be proud. I wish her well in that job.

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Beverley Flynn and Peter Kelly.

Photo of Johnny BradyJohnny Brady (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak in support of the Government's counter-motion tonight. We are all familiar with the phrase "only an hour from Dublin". At the time when Navan was only an hour from Dublin, Galway was three and a half hours from Dublin. In its advertisements in the newspapers a well-known Clifden hotel is now saying it is only two hours from Dublin to Galway.

The new M6 motorway might not be counted as direct investment in tourism but those in the tourism industry can see its value and potential. When we refer to investment in the tourism industry let us look at the broad range of service and infrastructural development in Ireland. These developments, including the M6 across from the east to the west coast, make travel easier and quicker and that helps tourism. The new motorway from Shannon to Galway will be another important link for tourism in my part of the country. If we could get the outer bypass of Galway city developed, the hotelier in Clifden could tell people that the journey from Dublin to Connemara is even shorter.

There have been major investments by Government in recent years that will benefit tourism in my part of the country and elsewhere. It is to the Government's credit that the budget directly given to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport this year, in effect, remains the same as it was last year despite the economic difficulties. There has been a fall-off in tourism in 2009 but, unfortunately, it comes against a backdrop of what has been described by leading economists as the worst international economic recession since 1932. Such a major economic change would have to be reflected in the tourism sector and similar type reductions have occurred in leading tourism destinations such as Cyprus, Greece and the Iberian Peninsula. The figures for the first quarter of this year when, unfortunately, we have had a 22% decrease in numbers, must be seen in context. The severe weather in the early months of 2010 curtailed travel and the volcanic ash crisis followed that. However, the industry remains resourceful.

Examples of that are evident in my region in Galway. The group "Lets do it Galway" had a major task on hand when it set out to bring the Volvo Ocean Race to Galway, but it was successful and it did it a second time. The Government and Taoiseach gave them strong support. I compliment the Taoiseach who provided €8 million when he was Minister for Finance for the 2009 Volvo Ocean Race to support Galway. That must be acknowledged. It is estimated that the Volvo Ocean Race Galway stopover had an economic impact of more than €55 million in this country. There were approximately 45,000 visitors from this country and more than 40,000 overseas visitors in Galway for the occasion. There was a worldwide television audience in excess of 1 billion looking at events in Galway. That came from a great local initiative in Galway. It is worth noting that a survey shows 99% of those who came to Galway for the event said they would like to come back. They will have an opportunity in two years' time when the race comes to Galway again. The Government strongly supported the campaign for the 2012 Volvo race stopover and has committed funding of approximately €4 million to the event. I congratulate the chairman of "Lets do it Galway", John Killeen, on being made a freeman of Galway city recently.

Going further west into Connemara, I see that the campaign "Wild at Heart" is extending its work and holding an important meeting in Oughterard next Wednesday. That is a very good concept which is being strongly supported by Fáilte Ireland. It is linking up different groups such as hoteliers and activity centres to carry out marketing in co-operation with each other. The "Wild at Heart" campaign also helps with training in aspects of the industry such as Internet marketing and ecotourism. The funding for "Wild at Heart" is based on a 50% contribution from the local tourism sector and 50% from Fáilte Ireland.

As in all sectors, Fáilte Ireland has had to do with less money, but it is using what it has well. A total of 120 people from the tourism sector locally attended a seminar on Internet marketing organised by Fáilte Ireland western region in Galway last week. The seminar was wholly funded by Fáilte Ireland. That is a local example of the national strategy to provide advice and training on the use of the Internet in the tourism sector. A total of €11 million has been allocated in direct support for training and advice of this kind for the industry in 2010.

The broadband services that are needed are coming on-stream. The Government's strategy - in tandem with the 3 company - to bring broadband to all parts of the country is bearing fruit. Only last week I heard news from communities west of the towering Twelve Bens in Connemara that their broadband services had improved greatly. All sectors would like more money but the €44 million available for the tourism marketing fund this year is a considerable sum in the current economic circumstances.

I am confident that the initiatives such as I outlined in Galway will continue to energise tourism despite difficulties. I expect the Government will support such initiatives as strongly as possible in the current economic environment. In flying the home flag I remind Members that it is only two hours from Galway to Dublin.

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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The current economic climate has impacted the numbers of people travelling globally, not just in Ireland. The US and most European countries are in recession. People have lost their jobs and have seen their living standards fall both at home and abroad. Naturally, that has had an enormous impact on the tourism industry. The CSO statistics published in May last showed that tourism numbers have dropped by 22% on the 2009 levels. That is hugely disappointing, but it must be viewed in the broader context of the global downturn.

The weather last winter provided a setback for the industry, which was already facing significant challenges. First, we had the arctic weather conditions at the beginning of the year and then the freakish volcanic ash incident saw European air space on virtual shutdown for several weeks. Those events were unforeseeable but unfortunately they provided another setback to an industry already struggling. With that kind of a start 2010 was always going to be a challenging year for tourism. The Government and its agencies are working extremely hard to tackle those challenges and maximise business for the tourism industry. The Government believes that a vibrant tourism sector is vital for economic renewal, which is the reason the tourism budget was increased last year by 3% even though there was severe pressure on the public finances. That has ensured the State agencies have received support to market Ireland, support festival and sporting events and to attract business people to come here.

To assist the tourism sector, an extensive range of marketing, product development, festival and sporting events, training and business supports are being put in place by the tourism State agencies under the tourism services budget of the Department. Earlier this year the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Hanafin, launched a €20 million marketing campaign designed to attract overseas tourists to this country. The campaign involves hundreds of tourism businesses including B&Bs, hotels, golf courses and national institutions.

Fáilte Ireland is working across five regions and has a budget of €4 million to encourage people to holiday at home this year. This campaign is centred on family promotions and offers, available both on-line and through a special offers brochure. The tourism industry has responded remarkably well to the recession. Businesses have reduced their prices, become more competitive and are devising imaginative and good-value offers to attract and retain visitors. Special offers, such as early-bird menus, mid-week special offers and family deals, are helping the industry to meet the challenges it faces head-on.

A Fáilte Ireland survey in The Irish Times found that 81% of people with children favour an Irish break. Forty-three per cent indicated they may take to foreign shores. The importance of the domestic market cannot be underestimated as it accounts for 65% of business in the intensely competitive hotel market. Recent research has indicated that Irish people now see Ireland as a good-value destination, with consumers acknowledging the excellent offers and value for money now available in the market.

Ógra Fianna Fáil is doing its bit. A group of energetic young people is involved in a countrywide promotional campaign to encourage people to holiday at home. Its website, eye-catching postcards and literature are well designed and humorous. I commend the group on its enthusiasm and their initiative.

There are over 200,000 people working in the tourism sector in Ireland. Overseas tourism alone contributes some €4 billion per year to the economies on this island. It is an extremely important sector. The recent report of the tourism renewal group has highlighted that marketing, along with renewed investment in the tourism product, including in respect of accommodation, food, attractions and support services, is vital to sustain and grow the sector.

We have a great product to sell. Our sports facilities, transport infrastructure, the new national conference centre and our cultural attractions are all great additions to the Irish brand. However, we must remain competitive and the industry is addressing this challenge.

I invite Members to the beautiful, natural harbour in the picturesque village of Clondra, County Longford, where the Royal Canal will be opened on 30 September 2010. It will be a very historic occasion in the Thirty-two Counties and will be attended by a Minister from the North and the South. There has been a €1 million investment in the harbour. The canal runs from Clondra all the way to Dublin.

Members should not forget the Johnny Keenan banjo festival this September in Longford town. If they have time this Sunday, they should come to Lanesboro on the River Shannon in County Longford and see the powerboats. The should come to Longford for the weekend. It has great bars and restaurants. Next Sunday, Longford will play Mayo in Pearse Park in Longford town. The people of Longford offer céad míle fáilte to all their Mayo friends on both sides of the House. That is all the good news. The bad news for Mayo is that I predict a Longford win.

Photo of Johnny BradyJohnny Brady (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I hope all the Deputies will be invited to that match.

Photo of Beverley FlynnBeverley Flynn (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I could say it will be hard to follow that but it is not. Coming from a county such as Mayo, which has a great number of tourist attractions, I realise Mayo can more than compete with Longford. With the manager of the Mayo team opposite me, I will definitely not agree with Deputy Kelly's statement. There is no doubt that Mayo will be victorious in Longford next Saturday.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important debate. Coming from a county that depends so much on tourism, I am particularly conscious of the role it plays in economic renewal. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, whom I believe can make a significant change in this area, which is of such considerable importance to the economy. We know its importance because it accounts for 4% of GNP, employs 200,000, brings in revenue of €4 billion and tax earnings of €1.3 billion. This gives us some idea of the significance of tourism to the economy. It is important that we have a Minister driving tourism at the Cabinet table. We have such a Minister in Deputy Hanafin.

I welcome the fact that the Government has placed tourism at the centre of its plans. It is very much part of the framework in Building Ireland's Smart Economy. It formed a very significant part of the global Irish Economic Forum in September. The Taoiseach, in his recent speech on employment policy, stated tourism is one of the ten areas of the Government's economic renewal plan.

In last year's budget, tourism services comprised one of the few areas that secured an increase. Its increase amounted to 3%, bringing the spend in that area to €153 million.

Let me outline important initiatives. The employment subsidy scheme was open to the tourism sector and many hotels in County Mayo applied and were successful under it. I would like to see a further round of the scheme because it played a very significant part in maintaining jobs in the hotel and tourism sectors generally that might otherwise have been lost.

There are a few areas on which I want to focus that are causing considerable problems for the tourism industry. The first concerns the implications of NAMA and NAMA-run hotels for the industry. I am conscious of this because I am from a county with a great number of family-run hotels. The reason the hospitality and tourism sectors were such a success in Ireland was because they were very much dominated by family-run businesses. When people come to Ireland to experience the tourism product, they remember the family-run hotels. The very idea of NAMA running hotels will cause a problem. There is over-capacity in the marketplace. Bearing in mind that the price of hotel rooms is being driven down, which is welcome in terms of attracting visitors, it will be an awful shame if some of the NAMA hotels succeed while driving many family-run hotels out of business.

It is not that I am trying to see any hotel closed down because I am not; I am just saying we must be very conscious of this. When NAMA is dealing with hotels, we must protect the family-run hotels that have been with us for 30 or 40 years, and sometimes longer. Family-run hotels are a feature in County Mayo. I have spoken to the Irish Hotels Federation on this matter and know my concern is shared throughout the country.

The supply of credit to family-run businesses is a serious issue. Recently, despite the fact that banks are protesting they are providing money to viable businesses, they have in reality cut back severely on the working capital and overdraft facilities of many businesses. They have told the businesses that their overdraft facilities will be reduced and have asked them to convert those facilities to term loan facilities and work with a much smaller overdraft facility. The banks say they will extend money to viable businesses.

With regard to the appeal system in respect of credit supply, how does one assess a viable business? If one evaluates many retail businesses and individuals in the tourism sector over a period of only six to 12 months, one will find that none is or very few are viable. However, how can one argue that businesses that may have been in existence for 30 or 40 years do not have a viable future, certainly in the medium term? We must be aware that banks have been involved in some sharp practice, and this is making it very difficult for businesses to continue. The support given by the Government to the banking sector out of necessity to stabilise it must not be given at the cost of putting out of business many small businesses, particularly those in the tourism sector.

The issue of rates has been raised. There is a great burden on businesses because of the fixed charges imposed by the Government and local authorities. Rates play a considerable role in this regard. There is a double dilemma because local authorities are starved of money also. They are trying to derive revenue from rates but this is putting massive pressure on the business community. We must determine a mechanism to deal with this. There is no flexibility regarding the payment of fixed charges. If we could do something to help, by way of having a deferral or discount system applying to rates, it would make a massive difference to the tourism sector. If this alone could be addressed tonight, it would be a very positive step.

Before I speak to the motion, on a related tourism issue, I commend Ógra Fianna Fáil on the campaign it launched on holidaying at home. It has set up a website, holdayathome.ie, and is promoting all the towns and counties in Ireland as destinations for holidaying at home. It has issued a postcard and has a poster campaign. I commend it on the campaign. It is only right that is said here.

I welcome the opportunity to voice my concerns about, and support for, the tourism industry through Private Members' Business this evening. I commend the Labour Party on bringing forward its motion, hence bringing the importance of tourism into focus here this evening. I concur with the sentiments expressed yesterday evening by the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, in that this industry will rise to the challenges and come out of this downturn even stronger than before. In recent times, with the good weather there are signs of that, particularly with the idea of holidaying at home.

Tourism is something about which I am passionate. It is an industry that affects every small village and town in rural Ireland, every one of which is going through difficulty at present. We have a great deal to offer as a country in terms of tourism. We have a most stunning landscape, not least in my home county of Donegal. We have unspoilt beaches and amenities. We have a rugged coastline offering breathtaking views. We have all the natural beauty for which any tourist could yearn. We must ensure now more than ever that we are competitive in order to remain successful.

Naturally, our tourism industry is being affected by the domestic economic situation but it must be realised that much of the tourism comes from external markets that are experiencing similar economic difficulties. Tourism figures are down all over Europe and the US. The number of overseas visitors to Ireland declined by almost 12% in 2009, which is difficult for the industry to endure. However, according to recent reports, particularly the OECD report, Malta, Hungary, Cyprus, Greece and Finland have experienced higher reductions in visitor numbers, and France, Portugal and Spain have experienced reductions of between 8% and 12%. To further compound the frustration being felt by the industry, the first quarter of this year saw very difficult weather conditions, as mentioned earlier. The eruption of the volcano in Iceland, in particular, compounded travel restrictions.

On a more positive note, more than 60% of our overseas visitors normally come between May and September. Tourism Ireland has been hard at work overseas selling the Ireland brand. As others mentioned earlier, the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, launched a €20 million summer marketing campaign on behalf of Tourism Ireland, which targets our key markets, such as the UK, the US and Germany, to attract as much business as possible during the peak season. Fáilte Ireland is continuously working with the industry to engage the Irish holidaymaker with attractive and accessible offers, highlighting the value and quality available in the country. I welcome the bed and breakfast accommodation revitalisation programme which is being rolled out by Fáilte Ireland, a tourism feature that is unique to Ireland.

I sense that many more Irish people intend to holiday at home this year, and this trend must be captured and encouraged by the industry. Having holidayed at home for the past couple of years given that I have a young family, I concur with the sentiments expressed by some of my Mayo colleagues. I have been there recently, and there is certainly good bang for your buck in Wesport at present.

Many overlook the inherent beauty of our country and the natural assets that are being utilised for the benefit of the tourist. Those involved in the industry should be competitive in terms of value; tourists will appreciate it and it will pay us dividends in the future. We priced ourselves out of the market in terms of tourism. Unfortunately, we were too expensive, but I think we are turning that around.

Our welcoming and friendly nature is widely recognised throughout the world and is something that should be encouraged. It is one of our strong assets. More can be done by communities to market themselves as a destination. Too often, individual amenities do a solo run in terms of marketing which does little to encourage tourists into an area. The general actions of a tourist in this modern era is to research their destination on the web. It is important that complete sources of information on various geographical areas are available on the web to make research simple. Each amenity in any area should be viewed as complimenting each other rather than in competition with each other. I would consider this a simple measure easily enforced by any community, and one that can make a difference.

I commend the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, on taking the step to chair the new renewal implementation group which is to be established to ensure the recommendations of the renewal group are implemented. This Government has put tourism to the top of the agenda and will continue to do so, and I support the amendment to the motion.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Like my colleague, I thank the Labour Party for initiating the discussion. I would not agree with much of what is in its motion and clearly that is why I will be supporting the amendment. We have achieved a lot and, obviously, we have a great deal more to do-----

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Deputy Flynn agreed with most of it.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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-----and I am sure we will continue in that regard.

To me, tourism is a vital cog in the economy as I come from a county which benefits from the level of tourism activity, whether it be through the airport or through the many tourism facilities and products. The Deputies across the way, as two Clare persons, will be familiar with the facilities that we have in the county.

There is a domestic and an overseas component to tourism and often the capacity of overseas tourism in terms of inward investment is underestimated. We spend much time talking about trying to ensure we get foreign direct investment to support job creation. Tourism does that in a benign, but yet important, way in maintaining people in their local communities and we must focus much more on attracting people to this country and encouraging people to stay here.

The downturn in our economy will resolve the domestic component of it. People will not be as anxious to take the weekend breaks that were available through low fares. While the exit from the country was relatively cheap, it was not cheap to visit well-known tourism destinations such as Barcelona for the weekend. There is a greater realisation among the public now that one can have a good time at home. One can retain money in the economy and still have a good time.

We have a job to do, even in convincing the media. I was taken aback when the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, was appointed to her current post and the media tried to suggest it was a downgrading, a demotion, of her role. It was nothing like that. It was a recognition that somebody with her stature and skill was needed to deal with an important component of the economy. She has taken up that challenge and is working extremely well with it, and we look forward to seeing many more of her initiatives in terms of ensuring that vital part of our economy is exploited to a much greater extent. The exploitation that must come forward here is the development of our tourism product. We go back to the great innovators of the past and look to persons such as Dr. Brendan O'Regan, with whom many would be familiar, who was instrumental in developing many of the attractions within the Shannon region. I refer to the Bunratty Folk Park, the medieval experience at Bunratty Castle, the development of the Old Ground Hotel and other iconic projects that attracted people to these shores. That was then and this is now. We must stop trying to sweat the asset that is already there. Places such as the Cliffs of Moher are well recognised. The various different experiences that have been around for some time are well recognised on the world stage. We must be innovative. We must put money behind the development of a new wave of product to attract people to this country. We must, in my view, carry out a needs analysis of our tourism product. We must look to existing and emerging trends in what attracts people to travel to various locations, and we must put money behind that.

We must then create competition between the regions within the country. We should not try to be all things to all men. We should not try to do a little in each county; we must go for the big bang approach. We must look at some of the more iconic-type attractor products, develop them on a regional basis, and build around that theme a support infrastructure from which we will benefit. We will be successful with having a more strategic approach rather than the scatter-gun approach which was the way of the past whereby everyone got a small piece, almost like the sports capital programme, which works well because one needs a field, a playground and such facilities in each community. That latter approach, in my view, does not work from a tourism point of view. One needs a big attractor to get people into the regions and if we can do that, it will work well.

There has been a good approach by the Government. Just last week, the Taoiseach visited east County Clare and launched the Shannon region discount card, an effort by tourism operators to attract people into the region and give them value for money through a 25% discount at various centres. This co-ordinated and visionary effort is concerned with ensuring people visit and stay in a region because of value for money. It is not a question of making Ireland a cheap destination, but of giving value for money. As other Deputies stated, value is returning to the market in terms of the reduction in the cost of labour and the more sensible approach taken by joint labour committees to Sunday trading, making it more accessible and, therefore, less expensive.

The Taoiseach was also involved in the launch of the CANTATA project, a European programme in which funding is provided to assist bed and breakfasts and so on to build networks. They can develop websites to allow them to market themselves in a micro way. I also wish to be associated with the Ógra Fianna Fáil campaign, a fantastic idea in which many others have been involved previously.

As Deputy Flynn stated, we must watch the costs. The introduction of the €200 charge on second properties has been an extra burden on those who provide holiday homes in the sector. Holiday homes used as tourism products instead of as private dwellings should get special treatment in terms of exemptions.

Photo of Michael KennedyMichael Kennedy (Dublin North, Fianna Fail)
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I understand Deputy Jan O'Sullivan wishes to share her time.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Yes, with Deputies Seán Sherlock, Kathleen Lynch, Brian O'Shea and Joe Costello.

Acting Chairman:

The Deputies will have six minutes each. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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I compliment my colleague, Deputy Upton, on tabling this important motion. The various Fianna Fáil Deputies who spoke were in agreement with many of her proposals, but we want Government action on these issues. By and large, a number of measures have received much cross-party support, but we need them to be implemented. I will concentrate on the travel tax. In the Minister's contribution last night, she indicated that she might be able to deal with this issue in some way. Maybe I was being hopeful in reading into it that she would address the matter.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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It is a matter for the Minister for Finance.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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The Minister, Deputy Hanafin, is not the Minister for Finance, but I will cite her colleague, Deputy Dooley, who stated that she had stature and skill. I suggest she use these to get this insidious tax abolished forthwith, since it is doing so much damage. Other Deputies referred to the example set by the Dutch and other European governments. Statistical evidence suggests the tax does more harm than good, given its cost in terms of revenue lost to the tourism industry. The Minister's tourism renewal group strongly urged the air travel tax's removal. This consultative group was set up by the Government. The chairman of Fáilte Ireland stated that the tax is costing the economy more than €30 million annually. The Minister has plenty of ammunition for the tax's abolition to take to her ministerial colleague.

I am concerned about my region of the mid-west in particular. The tax has had a dramatic effect on Shannon Airport. Michael O'Leary of Ryanair stated he would pull a number of routes out of Shannon mainly because of the travel tax. Unfortunately, he pulled them. We now have little connectivity between Shannon and mainland Europe. We have flights to Britain and across the Atlantic, despite the bad announcements in respect of the latter recently. The travel tax has had a significant adverse influence on Shannon Airport in particular. The reduction in traffic through it is greater than at Dublin or Cork Airport.

My colleague, Proinsias De Rossa, MEP, has been informed by EU transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, that the latter is examining the travel tax and may believe it to be in breach of EU rules. I hope it is in breach and that the Government will be forced to withdraw it, but I would prefer the Government to withdraw it voluntarily, given the negative effect the tax is having on tourism, particularly in the mid-west region.

I wish to refer to one or two other matters. I understand that the EU will next week issue a tourism policy on marketing the EU. It describes the European tourism image as an ensemble. In other words, the policy will market Europe. This is a significant step and I would like Ireland to play a leading role. I have the Asian market in particular in mind. In Deputy Upton's policy document on behalf of the Labour Party, she singles out the potential within the Asian market, given the large size of its population. Many Asian people visit Ireland, but one sees hordes of tourists from the East in European capitals. We need them to visit Ireland. We need to grow the Irish tourism product in Asia, as that is where the great potential for the future lies. I urge that we take a lead in the European concept so that, while tourists might visit Paris or Rome, they would also visit Ireland. We need to be in that loop.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Our motion seeks to build the capacity of the tourism product and to take a more lateral view of its potential to create wealth and jobs and sustaining communities. No longer can we rely solely on the US dollar and the busloads of Americans that graced traditional hotspots like Killarney and Bunratty. We must diversify the product range. The Labour Party motion, under the stewardship of Deputy Upton, seeks to develop Ireland's capacity as an eco-tourism destination.

One of Ireland's natural advantages is the unspoiled 3,500 miles of coastline. It is so indented that one is never more than 80 miles from the sea. Add to this the 800 lakes and rivers. Paddle sports like sea kayaking and river kayaking are, as yet, an untapped potential. While organisations such as the Irish Sea Kayaking Association, ISKA, are active in promoting these sports, the time is right for them to be included in a new consultative process that develops capacity in this area.

We have underestimated the potential for eco-tourism, particularly as a maritime nation. The report of the tourism renewal group recognises the need for domestic marketing. It states:

Domestic demand has a vital role in helping enterprises survive the current international downturn and particularly the current negative impact of the sterling exchange rate on our largest and nearest market. Similar arguments apply to the economic rationale for domestic as to international marketing. Domestic destinations compete directly with overseas destinations for Irish tourists.

We take a more lateral view than that articulated in the review in respect of the marketing target. Ireland always seems to tailor its product towards the UK or North American market. The Labour Party believes that, in order to build the capacity of the tourism product, we must move away from the narrow focus of selling, for example, a weekend by the lakes of Killarney, although there is a market segment for that product. We need to examine minority sports such as kayaking and develop them into segments.

Given our natural environment and easy access to the sea, an eco-tourism product is there to be developed. To assist this process, we must build a stakeholder model that allows groups such as the ISKA, which has led expeditions all over the world, to develop a product to encourage kayakers to visit this country. Such organisations have the necessary contacts, intelligence gathering and viral networks to assist in creating a domestic and international product that will bring people to our shores. I refer to sea-kayaking but we can develop a model for other such niche ecotourism products like surfing, mountaineering and hill-walking. The idea is to bring these people in as part of the stakeholder process.

These people have the necessary contacts on the international stage. I have sea-kayaked and gone mountaineering in other parts of the world. One does this through building up contacts through membership of various organisations. We need to bring these people together as part of a stakeholder group to develop the product domestically and use those contacts in the existing marketing framework to slowly develop the markets we need in order to bring people to our shores. This is taking a more lateral view of building products in niche areas. That is the future for the specific ecotourism product this country has the potential to develop.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Considering the range of subjects covered under tourism, what we are really talking about is how one markets one's country so that others will wish to visit. In terms of sports, history or literature, we have everything. We are a small but unique country. If one goes to far-flung places like China and mentions Ireland, people know it for several reasons. The first thing people know about Ireland is Joyce, the second is Roy Keane and the third is Blarney. As a brand, Blarney is known throughout the world but despite this, its connection with Ireland, and the unique quality it holds in the psyche of people, it has been badly served by Fáilte Ireland. People in Blarney want to know how much marketing goes into areas abroad. This applies particularly to the United States and England, our natural markets. One needs several elements and Blarney has them in abundance. One needs a product to sell and a brand that is known. I have seen people fight tooth and nail in court cases in order to retain a name or brand because they recognise the value of the brand and what it takes to put a brand in place.

There is one tourist office in Blarney, which is sufficient. The person who works there for 14 weeks of the year is extraordinarily helpful and is commended by everyone who uses the service. The Minister heard me right, the office is open for 14 weeks of the year. The days when people travelled only during the summer are long gone. People now travel more during off-peak periods than during peak periods yet the tourist office in Blarney, one of our biggest marketing tools abroad, is open for 14 weeks. It Fáilte Ireland could, it would hand it over to the local community because it does not think it can sustain the office.

I was more than surprised when the people in the area came together and asked their public representatives to meet to ask how to ensure the tourism industry will continue in the Blarney area. That is very sad and I could not believe when they told me the tourist office was under threat and is only open for 14 weeks of the year. That was astonishing. The brand, the product and the unique village, with a village square and all that goes with it, is in place. As far as those promoting the village are aware, Fáilte Ireland representatives have never visited the area. These people asked me to extend an invitation to the Minister to visit the area and see what is on offer. Perhaps she will be able to persuade Fáilte Ireland to promote it.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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The Minister is not to kiss the stone.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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The Minister does not need to.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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They would love the Minister to kiss the stone.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I have done it.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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They say it has more powers than just the gift of the gab. It can impart great genius on people. We suggest that the Minister kisses the Blarney Stone.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Deputy Kathleen Lynch has kissed it a few times.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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It is astonishing that representatives of Fáilte Ireland have not visited the area or made meaningful or worthwhile contact with those who have formed their own chamber in order to promote Blarney. The product and the hallmarks of what should be a successful tourism venture are in place but it is being concentrated into 14 weeks of the year and the people promoting the area cannot make progress with Fáilte Ireland. I appeal to the Minister to visit the area. She will be astonished at a unique group of people who are hard-working and prepared to put in whatever effort is necessary. They find they are not getting the support they need from Fáilte Ireland.

8:00 pm

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom mo chomhleachaí, an Teachta Mary Upton, a mholadh as ucht an doiciméad a d'fhoilsigh sí an mhí seo caite, Extending The Welcome: Labour's Plan to Sustain and Develop the Tourism Industry. Tá an doiciméad sin ar fheabhas agus tá an rún atá os chomhair na Dála bunaithe ar sin.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Mary Upton, on the publication last month of her excellent document, Extending The Welcome: Labour's Plan to Sustain and Develop the Tourism Industry. Deputy Upton is to be complimented on the motion, based on that document, before the House. The greatest problem facing the country is unemployment. This motion is about sustainable job creation and is both visionary and practical. When implemented, it will make a significant contribution to our major national need, namely, jobs. As usual, the Government is rejecting the motion based on that document for no reason other than that it did not come from the Government side.

This is a particularly opportune to discuss this in the context of the constituency of Waterford. Yesterday we saw the rebirth of Waterford Crystal. Some 18 months ago, the area was devastated by the closure of Waterford Crystal and its visitors gallery. Some 480 remaining jobs were lost, with terrible consequences for the workers and their families, but those providing ancillary services were also affected. Tourism was badly hit in Waterford and throughout the region. The large number of visitors to the visitors gallery at Waterford Crystal no longer came. In October 2006, a woman from Virginia became the 6 millionth visitor to the visitor centre. Some 315,000 people visited every year. When Waterford Crystal had problems, the Government was approached to contribute less than €40 million to help rescue the plant. There were jobs in manufacturing and ancillary services but the related visitor numbers were of benefit to Waterford, the region and the country. The Government decided not to assist. It is a pity Waterford Crystal was not a bank because the Government seems to have endless money to throw in that direction. The event yesterday happened through the initiative of the company that took over and the city council.

Once again, crystal is being manufactured in Waterford and visitors will come back. They are already coming back to the city, and they will move on then through the region.

Joined up thinking is not something of which one could accuse this Government. I will always believe the Government could have saved a great deal in Waterford had it not sat on its hands and decided to do nothing.

The paper prepared by Deputy Mary Upton examines many of the practical shortcomings and it is interesting, and so damning of the Government, that the level of broadband penetration in the country arises again and again. Deputy Upton makes the important point that we need the penetration in the rural areas because, as she rightly says, the bed and breakfast sector must be protected and developed. It is obvious that, in the world we live in today, having a high level of broadband connectivity in rural areas will assist this industry that needs a great deal of help. It is a basic industry when one considers that the Government allowed all the hotels to develop, many of them in the capital, but with deregulation and the cheap air flights, people were flying into Dublin for short holidays and not leaving. There were issues regarding the tourists who brought their cars to Ireland on the ferries, particularly from the United Kingdom. Everything was allowed to drift in that regard. There was a lack of vision, control and knowing what was going on.

Deputy Mary Upton's document seeks to redress problems such as the simple one involving tourists from the Far East facing virtually insurmountable problems in getting their visas to come to this country. We have all had representations, as I am sure has the Minister, from that sector. If that problem was addressed, it would improve the numbers coming here, which is what we want. We want people to come here. That is what tourism is about.

I compliment Deputy Mary Upton. I lament the fact that, as usual, the Government does not want to hear ideas. It prefers to throw money at banks, but it is a pity it did not throw some of that money in the direction of Waterford Crystal at the opportune time.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I, too, would like to congratulate Deputy Mary Upton on putting together a comprehensive motion and producing an excellent document extending the Labour Party's welcome proposals to sustain and develop the tourism industry, which she has published.

As previous speakers said, there is much concern about the failure of the Government to take the appropriate action to create the environment necessary for promoting the tourism industry. The statistics are stark. Tourism generated €5.2 billion for the economy last year. It is a vital part of our economy. It constitutes 4% of GDP and created almost 120,000 jobs. That was a drop of 12% on the previous year, and some 35,000 jobs have been lost as a result. Almost one quarter of the jobs in the previous year were lost to the tourism industry, with 1 million fewer visitors. It is clear that the industry is in free fall at present and it is vital that the Government acts to deal with the fundamental problems in the sector that are inhibiting potential growth and, more importantly, threatening the jobs that already exist.

Last weekend, I attended the World Street Performance Championship event in Merrion Square here in Dublin. It occupied the square and the surrounding streets. The entire area was a blaze of colour with tents and marquees everywhere, street performers and people selling all sorts of food and goods. Over 100,000 people, mainly families, attended and had a wonderful time.

The idea was the brainchild of two young Dublin brothers. Dublin City Council came on board, as did AIB, and created a major tourist event which will move to London this weekend and on to other European capital cities throughout the year. It will return to Dublin and will operate on an annual basis. However, despite the fact that this is the type of creative thinking and job creation that is required, to the best of my knowledge the Government and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation made no contribution to the event. It was done on a shoestring by other agencies. This was something of enormous benefit in terms of creating jobs in the area.

There are numerous ways the Government can contribute substantially to creating the right environment for job creation and the tourism industry. At the heart of the tourism industry are good communications. Deputy O'Shea already spoke about broadband. It is scandalous that we do not have the necessary broadband penetration essential for modern day tourism. That has been pointed out over the years and nothing has been done.

Likewise, interactive tourism applications for mobile Internet devices and computers are essential but we do not have them. Better Internet access also allows different tourist amenities in an area to work together and support each other. For example, why do we not have a WiFi directory that tourists can use? Tourists are crying out for areas where they can access WiFi, and free WiFi. Also, why are there no interactive maps for tourists to use as they travel around Ireland? They would be enormously useful for tourists but there are none. Simple ideas such as that would facilitate travellers in Ireland.

We are an island nation but an air travel tax at the point of entry-exit is foolishly erecting barriers to overseas visitors. This travel tax should be abolished. It is not assisting the aim of getting money into the economy; it has the opposite effect.

Despite the promises made in the past decade, Ireland still has little or no integrated ticketing system. Every developed country in the world has managed to overcome that minor obstacle and introduce integrated ticketing. It is available in all the capital cities in Europe. It is essential that a person can hop on a bus and transfer to the Luas, DART and rail. That should be a basic requirement in all our cities. The Government has failed to take the necessary action to ensure that is available for tourists travelling the country.

Another matter which has been referred to is the question of the obstacles to overseas tourists getting visas. The Schengen Acquis was introduced not for the purpose of providing a barrier to tourism, but that is what it is doing. All the countries that are part of the Schengen agreement - we are not part of it - are experiencing difficulty in having visa applications processed and substantial delays are occurring. Most of the tourism would be from Europe, Britain and the United States and it must be remembered that there is a diaspora of 80 million that have to be tapped into, but on the other side of the world - China, Asia and the Middle East - huge numbers of potential tourists find it extremely difficult to get visas. It is almost as though the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister's Department are trying to keep people out of Ireland in many cases rather than encouraging them to come here.

Small and medium-sized businesses need funding to be able to operate in this area. We have statements from the SME sector to the effect that funding is not coming through and the banks are not making credit available. They need regular funding. There are many operations dealing with tourism that need a steady flow of credit coming through, but that is not available. It is high time the Government got its act together and stimulated this area. It has not done so to date.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Upton and the Labour Party for putting down this Private Members' motion to facilitate a three-hour debate on tourism. The tourism industry, all Members agree, is an important indigenous economic sector which has the potential to contribute to Ireland's economic recovery. Several suggestions and proposals made by Deputies during the debate's course will be further considered.

The Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Hanafin, outlined the importance of the sector and the Government's determination to have in place policies and programmes to develop the industry. The Government, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport and the tourism agencies understand fully the unprecedented difficulties confronting tourism businesses.

It is quite extraordinary when one examines the external environment facing Irish tourism since the start of 2008. There has been retrenchment by domestic and overseas consumers in the face of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Uncertainty in financial markets has affected the availability of credit along with fluctuating fuel costs, adverse currency movements, poor weather conditions in the early part of the year and a volcanic eruption.

However, the Government has affirmed its confidence in the tourism industry and its ability to respond to these challenges. Despite the pressure on the public purse, we maintained our investment in tourism and marketing. The tourism agencies are doing all in their power to support industry partners through these difficult times. Our marketing efforts will continue right through the summer in markets across the world. There are innovative plans for the third quarter too. The Minister will launch an intense autumn marketing drive towards the end of the summer.

We need to be optimistic in our approach and bold in our thinking and strategies. There are grounds for optimism. We have on this island overcome far greater challenges which should help to motivate us in addressing the challenges we face in putting tourism on the path to recovery.

The prize is a great one, consisting of a strong and sustainable future for this great industry of ours, for all those who work in it, for the communities at its heart and for all those who partner with us overseas.

There are many related activities that support tourism. One is the film industry in which the Irish Film Board, assisted by tax incentives, promotes film-making in Ireland, presenting a country that is interesting and beautiful to visit. Another is culture and heritage, both of which are strong points across the island. The Office of Public Works is conscious of the importance of the well-distributed archaeological and historical sites it manages and operates for the tourism industry and our important home visitors.

Like agriculture, fisheries and forestry, tourism is an indigenous and employment-intensive industry. There is no strong economy in the world, no matter how large, and no city that does not value its tourism industry and which would not be infinitely poorer without it.

Ireland has much to offer. While many of us like to travel abroad, we should also spend plenty of time enjoying different parts of our country, its festivals, parks, sites and amenities. When launching the Fáilte Ireland summer home campaign, the Minister pointed out that four out of five Irish families with children are likely to take a holiday in Ireland this year. For my part, I have always taken a home-holiday somewhere along the west coast from Cork to Sligo every year since my parents could first afford to book us into Mrs. Fitzgerald's bed and breakfast in Sneem in 1961.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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The Minister of State was very lucky.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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Some weeks ago I had much pleasure in opening the Clancy Brothers Music Festival in Carrick-on-Suir. The next stop is Bantry on Sunday, where we have booked into concerts from 10 a.m. to midnight at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. Throughout the summer there is something somewhere to everyone's tastes and so far the weather has been good.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Will the Minister of State pop into Blarney on his way home?

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I wish to share my time with Deputy Gilmore.

Photo of Michael KennedyMichael Kennedy (Dublin North, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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This debate is somewhat like going back to the future, rediscovering economic capacities that were fundamental to our development. Now with the economic mess Fianna Fáil has delivered, these will become fundamental to our recovery. Like in the 1980s, and other times, when Ireland faced serious economic challenges, we must go back to tried and trusted economic activities in which our competitive advantage is somewhat significant.

Ireland has three great strengths in tourism, unparalleled elsewhere. It has a cultural and sporting heritage. Its landscapes and countryside are naturally beautiful and extremely attractive. Members of many expatriate communities living in Ireland have reasons to get their relatives to visit them, while abroad a large number of people across the world with Irish associations want to visit Ireland.

These key strengths leave us well positioned to use tourism as a key driver of economic recovery and job creation. The Government, however, needs to get beyond the warm fluffy rhetoric and down to brass tacks. It needs to take positive steps to remove the different obstacles holding back the tourism sector.

Our key strengths also provide the opportunity to expand our tourism sector into newer and expanding high-value added areas such as eco-tourism. While we have done well in providing sporting-tourism facilities such as golf courses, we have not yet tapped into the potential for younger tourists in areas such as walking and cycling.

A negative image is associated with Ireland when it comes to walking and some other outdoor activities because of difficulties with access rights in remote parts of the country. On the Continent, a strip no more than three to six feet wide is left in every field to allow access across it without presenting difficulties to local farmers and landowners. I accept there have been negotiations about access rights in Ireland. However, the image internationally is negative. On top of this, it is too dangerous to walk and cycle on Irish main roads. We have natural advantages to allow people to enjoy walking, cycling and other outdoor activities. We need to ensure access and supports for them.

The air travel tax needs to be removed. Ireland is an island nation with most of its visitors arriving by plane. Imposing a tourist tax on every visitor when they fly in and out, does nothing to improve our value for money reputation. Given that most people book their airline flights on-line, the tax is very much in one's face when one sees the final cost of booking a flight to Ireland.

Most western economies, from where the majority of our visitors come, are weak with incomes under pressure. More than ever we need to take every available opportunity to restore our reputation as a value destination.

In the 1980s, Ireland had a reputation as a top destination for good value holiday experiences, along with its attractive natural attributes. Ireland also had many fine hotels and guest houses offering a wonderful and authentic Irish experience to visitors. At the height of the economic boom, however, this was lost sight of. Much of this had to do with the training of hotel catering staff. If they are not from the area they are serving, they must be trained in highlighting its tourism potential.

In a globalised world, visitors expect to be able to arrange their visit on-line from the comfort of their homes. They want to check the site, view the rooms and the surrounds and to see what the property looks like. They want to see images of the local restaurant where they might go to have an evening meal.

When they come to Ireland, they will be unable to stay in contact with their people back home, their clients and colleagues. Global communications technology and next generation broadband are at the centre of developments but Ireland is not yet at the races in this regard. Despite a succession of Government reports and promises, we remain near the bottom of the class when it comes to broadband. This undermines Ireland's attractiveness as a destination not only for tourists, but for much-needed investment and this is an area the Minister must examine. The Labour Party has put forward several proposals for small businesses, which are the backbone of the tourism industry. For example, we made proposals for a PRSI holiday for employers which take on new people and we have also put forward proposals to incentivise employment. I note that, belatedly, this weekend, the Taoiseach picked up some of the Labour Party's policy decisions. I welcome this development, even if it is not as comprehensive as we would have wished.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I thank all the Members who have contributed to the debate. In particular, I express my appreciation of the work of my colleague, Deputy Mary Upton, not only in presenting this motion to the House, but in presenting and publishing an outstanding policy document for the Labour Party in this important area of tourism.

I am disappointed my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, has not accepted the motion we tabled. I would have expected the motion from the Labour Party to have been of assistance to her in fighting her corner for the tourism industry and its importance, especially at this time of the year.

The motion is about jobs and getting people back to work. Unlike the Government, the Labour Party does not believe it is possible to cut one's way out of a recession. One cannot sink €22 billion into a zombie bank, such as Anglo Irish Bank, and expect such an approach to steer one out of recession. The Labour Party has been consistent from the beginning. The only way to get out of this recession is if we work our way out of it. What is more, the people want to work their way out of it.

Through its recklessness and privileging of vested interests before the national interest, this Fianna Fáil Government precipitated our economic disaster. We were the first into recession and we will be the last out of it. It will be deeper and our debts greater because of the mistakes it made and its mismanagement.

However, this economic disaster is also a human disaster. The hundreds of thousands of families and individuals affected by unemployment during this recession will be scarred, perhaps for years to come. At present, there are 439,000 people on the live register, unemployed or under-employed. The most recent quarterly national household survey shows that 41% of all people unemployed have been out of work for more than one year. One in every three young men in the labour force is out of work. More than 1,400 businesses went to the wall last year.

The Labour Party first began discussing job creation, through investment in a school building programme and the retraining of construction workers in summer 2008, before the banking collapse. Since then, we have proposed a series of practical measures to create jobs in our economy and to head off the emergence of long-term unemployment through training, work placement and work sharing schemes. One such measure is a €1.15 billion jobs fund comprising three pillars: funding for infrastructure projects which are ready to go, such as school renovation, urban regeneration and flood reliefs that will create jobs and useful, lasting resources; up to 60,000 new education and training places that reflect our future skills needs, including 30,000 graduate and apprentice work placements; and investment for sectoral job strategies in green energy, tourism, agrifood, creative industries and other areas where we already have a competitive advantage.

We have also proposed a PRSI holiday for employers who create new jobs that are filled by people who have been on the live register for six months or more. We proposed this in April 2009. Last week, the Government announced with much fanfare that it was finally adopting the same idea. We proposed a new law to ban upward-only rent reviews for new and existing commercial leases to save jobs and viable businesses in the retail sector. The Government voted down our proposed legislation. We proposed a State investment bank that would provide investment capital for new start-ups and to expand existing, home-grown industries. All of these ideas have been costed. We believe they are affordable and that we cannot afford to do nothing. Every person on the dole for a year costs the Exchequer €20,000 in welfare benefits and lost taxes. That money would be better invested in getting such a person back into sustainable employment.

The Labour Party's latest policy blueprint for the tourism industry, published by Deputy Upton, contains 29 practical suggestions for sustaining and growing one of our most important sectors. Some 15 of these ideas are put forward in this motion. These include the abolition or reduction of the travel tax, which arguably costs more in lost tourism revenue than it raises; protection of the tourism marketing budget as a key instrument in developing new tourism markets, for example, in Asia; and a strategy to deal with the phenomenon of zombie hotels, which had been encouraged as a tax avoidance mechanism by the Fianna Fáil Government.

As my Labour Party colleague, Deputy Mary Upton, highlighted, the tourism sector in Ireland is a major employer. In 2009, the tourism industry employed almost 120,000 people and contributed €1.2 billion in tax revenues. It is a truly national industry, employing people in every corner of the country across a range of age and skill levels. What is more, we are aware that we have a good tourism product. Despite the fall in tourism numbers in recent years, tourism has been a domestic success story underpinned by small businesses and entrepreneurs.

One point often missed in high-flown lip-service paid to the smart economy is that a smarter economy has to stretch from the grassroots up as well as from cloud computing down. The Labour Party's policy blueprint highlights several ways in which we can improve the delivery and marketing of our tourism product through mobile applications, better integration of services on the web, specific web portals for popular activities in Ireland, such as surfing or golf, and better penetration of broadband such that rural businesses can take full advantage of the Internet.

We welcome the Government's statements on the smart economy and green technology but thus far statements are all we have got. While this Government is highlighting what it will do, it is ignoring the economic winners we have on our own doorstep. This is why the Labour Party has been advocating sectoral job strategies which consider how we can expand existing, successful industries, such as tourism and food and culture. Ireland has great potential in emerging industries, such as cleantech. The Labour Party has put forward a strategy in our 2009 policy document, The Energy Revolution. However, it will take time to grow these new, high-tech sectors, some of which are still in their infancy. In contrast, we can create the conditions to grow established, nationwide industries relatively quickly.

Tourism, for example, does not require further expensive infrastructure or lengthy lead-in times. It takes advantage of skills which our labour force already has well honed, such as customer service, food production and information technology skills, to name but a few. If we do this right, it is a sustainable source of jobs, both environmentally and in its longevity. If we steward our tourism industry well, it will prove to be an immensely valuable renewable resource.

No one in the House believes repairing our economy will be easy. However, it will be impossible if we do not staunch the loss of jobs throughout our economy and if we do not take urgent measures to prevent mass long-term unemployment. That is the critical purpose of this motion and I call on every Deputy on the Government benches to consider carefully his or her response to the Labour Party's positive, job-focused proposals on the tourism industry.

Amendment put:

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 73 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, John O'Donoghue, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)

Against the motion: 66 (James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies David Stanton and Emmet Stagg.

Amendment declared carried

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.