Thursday, 7 October 2021
Recovery of Tourism and Aviation: Statements
Tá áthas orm labhairt leis na Teachtaí, maraon leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Naughton, faoi théarnamh ár n-éarnálacha turasóireachta agus eitlíóchta, dhá earnáil a bhfuil dlúthnasc eatarthu. I am pleased to have the opportunity, along with the Minister of State to address the House on the recovery and reopening of our tourism and aviation sectors, two sectors with close links. The past 18 months have been incredibly difficult for everyone working in the tourism industry. However, as our economy and society have reopened over the last few months and as pandemic restrictions are eased further, we can begin to look forward to a sustainable recovery for this vital indigenous economic sector. The importance of tourism in Ireland cannot be understated. It is a sector that has made a huge economic and social contribution in recent years across the country. I am confident that, with our support, it will fully recover from the crisis and thrive again in a manner that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
In 2019, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism was worth €9.5 billion in total to our economy from overseas tourists and the fares they generated, together with domestic tourism. Fáilte Ireland has previously estimated that 23 cent in every euro generated in tourism expenditure went back to the Exchequer in tax revenues. This equates to €1.8 billion in Exchequer revenue. Tourism supported 260,000 jobs across the country, both in remote rural areas and in our towns and cities. It sustains communities and drives regional development in a manner that most other industries struggle to emulate.
The tourism landscape changed drastically in early 2020 with the outbreak and spread of Covid-19. It has had a devastating impact on the tourism industry in Ireland and across the world. The pandemic struck Irish tourism towards the end of the first quarter of 2020, by which stage only 10% to 15% of annual overseas spending would have accrued. After the first quarter there was a collapse in overseas travel, and the OECD estimates that international tourism worldwide fell by 80% in 2020. Since the advent of Covid-19 and the consequential and necessary public health measures, many of the jobs supported by tourism have been lost or are surviving with State support, and income from the sector is a fraction of what it was in 2019. Last year, the tourism recovery task force estimated that of the 260,000 jobs in the sector prior to the onset of the pandemic, 180,000 are either lost or vulnerable.
The successful domestic summer seasons last year and this year have been very welcome and helpful to the sector. However, the sector cannot begin to fully recover until inbound overseas tourism resumes in a meaningful way.
Last year, a tourism recovery task force was put in place to prepare a tourism recovery plan with recommendations on how best the Irish tourism sector can adapt and recover in a changed tourism environment as a result of the crisis. The task force presented the plan to me in September of 2020 and it has been more than useful for both my Cabinet colleagues and me in considering measures that can assist the sector.
I appointed a recovery oversight group to oversee the implementation of the tourism recovery plan and it reports to me on a regular basis with updates on implementation and the recovery of the sector. The group has just submitted its third report to me. I will use the report as an important policy consideration as I continue my work, alongside my colleagues, to support the tourism sector in this most challenging period. It is clear that substantial progress has been made in helping tourism to survive and recover from the Covid crisis.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in Ireland, it has been clear that the tourism sector would be severely impacted. My Department, together with Fáilte Ireland and the Government, has responded to this challenge by providing the supports that would enable strategic tourism businesses survive the pandemic and re-emerge in a safe and sustainable manner. In the final months of 2020, I allocated funding to Fáilte Ireland to administer a Covid-19 adaptation fund, an Ireland-based inbound agents business continuity scheme and a coach tourism operators business continuity scheme. Fáilte Ireland also administered the restart grant plus for bed and breakfasts, on behalf of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
In budget 2021, I secured a record level of funding of just under €221 million for tourism, including €55 million for Fáilte Ireland's tourism business continuity scheme. The purpose of this scheme is to support strategic tourism businesses to survive through the pandemic and help drive the recovery of tourism. In total, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I understand that in excess of €75 million has been paid out in dedicated tourism supports. The VAT reduction to 9% until September 2022, has also given the tourism and hospitality sector some additional breathing space, and is helping with its viability and price competitiveness.
In addition to these direct tourism-specific supports, tourism businesses have benefited from horizontal supports such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, as well as the commercial rates waiver, tax debt warehousing and other initiatives such as pathways to work and the business resumption support scheme. One striking statistic is that employees in the accommodation and food services sector alone have been supported to the tune of over €1.5 billion from the EWSS and its predecessor the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS. This is a remarkable figure which shows the Government's commitment to those whose livelihoods have been so negatively impacted by the crisis. In the economic recovery plan, we acknowledge that continuing support for the tourism sector will be important for the coming adjustment period, as public health restrictions are lifted and international travel is restored.
I am currently engaged with my Government colleagues in preparing for next week's budget. We will consider both the importance of economy-wide support measures for tourism jobs and businesses and any additional sector-specific measures which may be required. Any further measures must be directed at those businesses and jobs with ongoing difficulties and the restoration of international tourism.
While our domestic tourism market has helped sustain the industry, it now needs international visitors to return in significant numbers in order to facilitate a meaningful recovery. In 2019, overseas tourists spent more than €5.1 billion in our economy. Since the easing of restrictions on 19 July, overseas visitors have started to return to our shores but at a much lower level than prior to the pandemic.
The competition globally to attract tourists will be more challenging than ever. To this end, Tourism Ireland has started to roll out the green carpet and welcome back our international visitors, as it works to encourage as many overseas holidaymakers as possible to book Ireland for their next holiday destination. The concept centres on creating a commitment to travel by encouraging people to Press the Green Button - green being the universal colour of go and instinctively connected with the island of Ireland. I was happy to help Tourism Ireland launch this new campaign in both the UK and the United States recently when I travelled to both markets to engage with our industry partners in order to reassure them that Ireland was open and waiting to welcome back visitors.
Connectivity is a major part of the picture here. Air access for tourism is a virtuous circle. Increased access drives tourism and increased demand for tourism helps to increase air capacity. I am aware, of course, that aviation poses challenges for the environment and I look forward to what the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, has to say on that.
At the start of this week, the Government launched the new National Development Plan 2021-2030. With provision for €165 billion worth of investment, this is the largest national development plan in the history of the State. The capital investment priorities for my Department will support economic recovery and resilience in the tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sport and media sectors, while also enhancing individual and community well-being and advancing social, economic and environmental sustainability to protect our unique cultural, linguistic and sporting heritage for generations to come.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on tourism. As we rebuild this vital sector, we must do so in a way that ensures the contribution of the tourism sector to our economic recovery, providing sustainable employment across Ireland in a way that protects our unique environment. With specific regard to tourism capital investment, I look forward to seeing the delivery of projects that will support a sustainable tourism sector - sustainable from an environmental, social, and economic perspective. The new national development plan provides for the delivery of enhanced amenity through investment in tourism product development, including through Platforms for Growth, Fáilte Ireland's capital investment strategy to target projects that have the greatest potential to grow and foster sustainable tourism.
I am also excited about the investments we are making in redeveloping and enhancing the sustainability of our national and regional cultural infrastructure, including significant capital projects at our national cultural institutions. For example, the ambitious redevelopment plans for the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork will open up our national collections to even more people, enhancing the visitor experience of the gallery while also protecting and enhancing the sustainability of this historic building at the heart of the city.
While many challenges lie ahead, the Government is committed to continuing support for tourism and to working towards its full reopening and recovery. From a tourism perspective, a real recovery will only be possible when inbound international tourism returns. Compared with most other EU member states, Ireland's tourism sector is highly dependent on overseas travel. Such travel accounts for some 75% of spending in Ireland by tourists. Since the pandemic there has been a complete collapse in overseas travel to Ireland. That does not mean that we should not maximise the domestic opportunity over the next few years. While the level of demand from the home market cannot compensate for the loss of overseas tourism, it plays a vital bridging role in getting the industry through the current survival phase.
Recruitment continues to be a significant challenge for the tourism sector, with up to two-thirds of businesses reporting reduced capacity due to staff shortages. My Department and Fáilte Ireland have been collaborating with industry and other Departments to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach to addressing the labour and skills shortages,
A collaborative approach by stakeholders, including industry bodies, education providers, Departments and State agencies will be required to address the skills shortages in the tourism sector. As tourism and hospitality provide significant employment in all parts of the country, this will be vital for the recovery of the sector.
Prior to the pandemic it was becoming clear that the traditional model of tourism was changing. As a Green Party Minister, I am concerned about the tourism impacts on our natural environment and local communities. In this regard, officials within my Department have initiated the development of a new national tourism policy which seeks to mainstream the concept of sustainability. The development of this new policy gives us an opportunity to set out what type of tourism sector we want up to 2030 and beyond.
The tourism sector has proven itself resilient before. I am optimistic that, as our economy and society begin to open up, it will recover from this crisis and thrive again.
I am glad to have this opportunity to update the House on the recovery of aviation, which is a key supporting element in the recovery of tourism that the Minister has just outlined.
The Government is very much alive to the challenges faced by both sectors and has proven its commitment to their recovery through the various strategic and financial supports provided to date. I am pleased to report that we are seeing some positive trends towards recovery in Irish aviation but there is still some distance to go. Much still depends on the international Covid context, global vaccination rates and the return of consumer confidence in respect of safe air travel.
I take this opportunity to touch upon two other key developments which will impact aviation during the recovery ahead: the domestic regulatory reform process to establish a single aviation regulator in Ireland; and the sustainability challenge faced by the sector in responding to the EU's recent commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, my officials and I have remained in close contact with key stakeholders in the aviation sector.
It was clear from this engagement that the single most important factor for Irish aviation was the reopening of international travel, subject to public health considerations. This reopening began on 19 July, following a period of extensive preparation and collaboration between Departments, industry and international partners. Central to this was the substantial work undertaken to introduce the enhanced passenger locator form and the EU digital Covid certificate. Under these arrangements, we have seen a very welcome recovery in passenger numbers, with throughput at the State airports in mid-September up nearly 300% on the levels of 19 July. However, passenger numbers at Irish airports are running at around 50% of pre-pandemic levels, compared with an average of 70% at other European airports. I am hopeful this will improve shortly and there are positive signs in this respect.
The news that Ryanair will reopen its Cork Airport base from December, which secures 60 jobs, is very welcome. We have seen the limited return of Aer Lingus to Shannon on the London to Heathrow route and its recent announcement of the phased reintroduction of numerous European routes from Dublin this winter is another welcome development.
The news of the intended relaxation of US travel rules for vaccinated European travellers from November means we can look forward to an increase in transatlantic traffic over the coming months. The announced return of both American Airlines and United Airlines to Shannon is a further positive development, particularly as transatlantic connectivity is key to many commercial activities in the mid-west region, as well as serving as a boon to our tourism and hospitality sector.
Much of the recovery in passenger numbers has been driven by our successful vaccination programme and those of our European neighbours. At this stage, approximately 90% of incoming passengers completing the electronic passenger locator form are fully vaccinated. Ireland's reputation as a safe destination is also enhanced by our impressive vaccination figures and our position at the top of the Bloomberg Covid resilience ranking. This is a vindication of Ireland's careful approach to Covid-19 and international travel and I am confident this approach will reap benefits from here on in.
We cannot underplay, however, the seriousness of the impact that Covid has had on the aviation sector. The industry is emerging from its greatest ever crisis and it needed substantial support throughout this time to remain resilient. Here again, the Government was not found wanting. From the beginning of the pandemic, the Government has taken strong and targeted action with a broad range of unprecedented Exchequer supports to help mitigate the effects of the crisis, including a wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, a commercial rates waiver and deferred tax liabilities. It is estimated that Irish airlines and airports will have availed of over €440 million through several of the available supports by the end of 2021. In addition, through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, pandemic stabilisation and recovery fund, DAA secured €40 million and Aer Lingus secured €150 million.
In November 2020, a dedicated funding package for Irish aviation totalling €80 million was announced. This package included the regional airports programme, which provides over €21 million for 2021 to Ireland West, Donegal and Kerry airports and supports the operation of our public service obligation air service between Donegal and Dublin. The Covid-19 regional State airports programme for 2021 provides €32 million to Cork and Shannon airports. A €26 million Covid supplementary supports scheme will compensate airport operators towards the losses caused by Covid-19 and the travel restrictions imposed to limit its spread. This saw €20 million in compensation disbursed to Dublin, Cork, and Shannon, providing the State airports with flexibility to roll out route incentives and charge rebates in consultation with airlines, with a view to supporting recovery and growth of connectivity. Of the total, €6 million was provided for Donegal, Kerry and Ireland West airports.
I assure Deputies that the Government is keeping under review the need for any additional targeted supports to this vital sector. Deputies will be aware that the economic recovery plan published by the Government on 1 June explicitly references this and recognises that additional supports may be required to support the aviation sector's recovery as it reopens.
International travel is vital for the continued economic well-being of this country and maintaining its recovery, and it will continue to remain a priority for the Government. Supports needed to help all regional airports, including Shannon and Cork, are being considered in the context of budget 2022. I recently wrote to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of the provision of support for the licensed travel trade in light of continuing uncertainty for that sector. The travel trade is expected to be one of the last to recover from the impact of the pandemic. Consumer confidence remains unstable and the industry has forecast that most bookings in 2021 will relate to 2022 and that trade will not recover to any meaningful extent until that year at the earliest.
The availability of general wage supports undoubtedly sustained many small businesses over the course of the pandemic but the risk of insolvencies has re-emerged now that travel agents and tour operators are falling outside eligibility for the Covid restrictions support scheme since the more general reopening of non-essential retail from 17 May. That is despite low levels of holiday booking. Support for this sector is support for small business and I will continue to advocate for it in discussions with my colleagues, the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform.
As the aviation sector continues to recover from the Covid-19 crisis, we must ensure we have a robust regulatory regime to sustain the recovery. The Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020, which is moving through the legislative process, will provide this. Whereas the current regulatory regime was put in place in the early 1990s, and has served the sector well over time, the institutional structures no longer reflect international best practice. This Bill therefore proposes to put in place a modern regulatory system that will underpin Irish aviation for the next decade and more.
This Bill has three main objectives. First, it merges the regulatory functions of the Irish Aviation Authority with those of the Commission for Aviation Regulation. In doing so, it establishes a single, independent and strengthened aviation regulator. Second, it establishes a new commercial semi-State company to manage the air traffic control requirements of Irish controlled airspace, AirNav Ireland. Third, it makes changes to how airport charges are set at Dublin Airport by putting a greater emphasis on the needs and expectations of the consumer.
As Deputies will be aware, recovery from Covid cannot come at the expense of the climate and the aviation sector in particular is conscious of the need for a sustainable recovery in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the EU's commitment to reduce overall carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. I am happy to advise that Dublin Airport was formally designated as level 3+ carbon-neutral in December 2020 by the global Airport Carbon Accreditation programme and is the first airport in Ireland to achieve carbon-neutral status. All Irish airports are encouraged to sign up to Airports Council International, ACI, Europe's carbon accreditation programme and, where feasible, the regional airports programme will seek to support eligible airports to achieve goals in this respect.
In addition, officials in my Department are also engaged in the negotiation of several key files at EU level as part of the EU's Fit for 55 package. These measures aim to address the sustainability challenge for aviation but will require efforts and investments by both airlines and airports. I fully recognise that the need to meet this sustainability challenge is coming at a time when the sector is trying to regain its footing but the aviation sector is nothing if not innovative. I am confident that the supports and commitments to the sector provided by the Government will position it to rise to the dual challenge of recovering in a sustainable manner.
The aviation sector was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic and it was recognised from the outset, and again here today, that it will take much longer to recover compared with others. The industry employs, directly and indirectly, over 140,000 people and it is vital to our economy and society as an island nation. Many of these workers faced savage cuts over the past 18 months and the vast majority are still not on their full wages or working hours. There are real concerns about their prospects of getting back to that point. This has a real impact on families, communities and local economies.
We should not forget the experience of these dedicated workers. Newspaper headlines indicated that cabin crew were struggling to feed their families at a time when their employer was receiving hundreds of millions of euro in State support, all while that employer and the Department of Social Protection pointed fingers at each other over short-term work supports.
This was the absolute worst of the pandemic. It was shameful and it is continuing in that company, and in other companies in aviation, as the sector tries to exploit the pandemic.
The Minister of State will be aware of very significant industrial relations issues across the aviation sector. Last month, Aer Lingus ground staff and cabin crew both rejected efforts by the company to target their work terms and conditions in order to offset losses at the airline. These workers already faced massive income losses during the pandemic. Permanent cuts to their working conditions will not help the sector to recover. Aer Lingus is seeking to take advantage of the pandemic after it received hundreds of millions of euro in support from taxpayers. The State must intervene to protect jobs in the sector.
Similarly, the DAA's attempt to outsource front-line maintenance work is disgraceful and something Sinn Féin opposes. This is a semi-State company. Outsourcing is far too often the precursor to further attacks on the terms and conditions of workers. This is not acceptable and it should be opposed in the strongest terms. Furthermore, members of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications have all received correspondence from air traffic control workers highlighting a litany of concerns about the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA. I have written to the Minister of State on this but have yet to receive a substantive reply.
I know the Minister of State cannot comment specifically on all these cases, but it is very important that reassurance is provided in the House today that the Government is engaging on these issues. We cannot leave these matters, and the future of our aviation sector, to the whim of the market. If we do that, we can forget about regional balance. The State must use its position. We need to bear in mind we are an island nation. Far too often, Ministers have washed their hands of transport matters and let industrial relations issues spiral out of control. We do not want to see that happen now as the aviation sector begins to recover.
It is also essential that the State continues to support these workers. I hope the Minister of State will provide some insight on the medium-term supports the Government is planning. There has been a clear call from workers and their unions in the sector for an aviation-specific employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, to be put in place to support workers until the sector recovers. Last month, the Minister of State told me the Government is having constructive conversations on this as part of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, subgroup. I would like an update on that. I noted nothing was forthcoming in her opening comments. The extension is about getting us over the shoulder. People in the sector are saying they have missed their season, which does not start again until around St. Patrick's Day.
The Minister of State mentioned the Fit for 55 EU-level package. There is an opportunity for Ireland to be a leader in the transition towards alternative fuels. We do not have a hydrogen strategy and we should have one. There is an opportunity in that. We are in a unique position on international aviation and we can be leaders in the field. Otherwise, we will be playing catch-up.
From a tourism perspective, we want to make travel as convenient as possible for people, while also having appropriate public health measures in place. Do we have any indication of the date on which routes to the United States will reopen? Many people are very interested in that and it has a major impact on the aviation sector. A query that comes up time and again relates to vaccinated individuals. Very many people in Ireland received the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not licensed in the United States. Will it be accepted there? Does the Minister of State have any information on that? It is a query. I hope the vaccine would be accepted given the number of people in Ireland who have been vaccinated with it.
I will speak about the coach tourism sector, which is related to the briefs of both the Minister and the Minister of State in different ways. Representatives of that sector have outlined the major challenges it faces. They have identified a number of measures they believe need to be taken to get them back on their feet and sustain them through this period. They, too, have called for an extension of the EWSS and specific targeted supports for the sector. They are facing challenges with forbearance and depreciation of assets. This is a sector deserving of significant support and I encourage both the Minister and the Minister of State to engage with it positively.
The effect the pandemic has had on tourism cannot be overstated. It has been devastating. It has been said many times but it is worth repeating that tourism was among the first sectors to shut down when the pandemic hit and it will be among the last to resume normal activities. Before the pandemic, tourism was one of the most successful indigenous sectors in the State. It had a very successful year in 2019 when approximately €9 billion in revenue was generated. Almost €7 billion of that was generated by overseas visitors and €2 billion was from the domestic tourism market. This shows the reliance the sector has on overseas business and the devastation that travel restrictions have had on our tourism sector since March 2020. This is especially true for every part of the country that has a significant reliance on tourism.
Some 18% of jobs in Kerry are directly dependent on tourism. The figure for Donegal is 13%, for Waterford it is 12% and in Dublin it is 10%. We know that a large number of people working in tourism and hospitality had to rely on pandemic supports in the past year and a half. Some have since lost their jobs or have left the sector. There are many reasons for this. Many people who are not originally from Ireland returned home during the pandemic and others left seeking more stable work or retrained to work in a new sector. I mention also that for many years we have had problems with poor pay and conditions in some sections of tourism and hospitality. These issues have been around for years and we need to address them to ensure the sustainability of the sector and that it grows again. Workers in this sector need to be paid a living wage and have decent terms and conditions of employment. These are basic rights that any worker in a modern, affluent country, such as Ireland, should expect. Good pay and conditions will also help with staff retention, which has been a major problem for businesses this year.
The sector is not a monolith and some businesses were able to open and do business this summer, while others were not in a position to do so. Although we are expecting to reopen fully on 22 October, it will soon be winter. Businesses that rely on international travel will find they are still struggling. Many businesses will not be back to normal until more travel restrictions are eased and the season begins again next year.
The Government provided supports during the pandemic with varying degrees of success. The pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and the EWSS were vital supports. We need to ensure the EWSS remains available in a targeted way to protect businesses that remain affected by Covid into 2022. Other supports that were designed for tourism and hospitality were clunky. They left out large numbers of businesses or were badly tailored so take-up was low. There was no stimulus from the Government. Sinn Féin put forward a sensible, fully costed plan to give every adult and child in the State a voucher to spend in the tourism and hospitality sectors. It would have given families a hand at a time when so many people had lost their jobs or were temporarily out of work and it would have put money straight back into local tills in every county in the State.
Sinn Féin's alternative budget has made provision for a pre-Christmas voucher scheme of €200 for adults and €100 for children. We have also proposed allocations for Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and a fund for local authorities to improve their tourism offerings in the coming year. Instead of a stimulus package or plan from the Government, we got the stay-and-spend rebate scheme, which was a complete flop. Some €2 million of the €270 million that was set aside was claimed. We were hoping to see a more sensible stimulus scheme in the July stimulus plan but there was nothing in that either. After 18 months of the biggest disaster ever to hit tourism and hospitality, there is still no stimulus plan.
Other areas too are still in limbo. We need clarity on the reopening of nightlife in the coming weeks. Businesses need to know so they can make plans now ahead of 22 October.
Culture and nightlife were completely forgotten. Professional musicians suffered, and continue to suffer, extreme hardship. Artists are still waiting for clarity on the basic income proposal and what exactly it will mean. We must ensure that the groups at the bottom of the Government's priority list are prioritised now. The fact that the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media was this summer blocked from attending the Cabinet sub-committee tells us all we need to know about the attitude of this Government to the arts, culture and tourism.
I raise the issue of the funding of the City of Derry Airport or, to be more exact, the lack of funding by the Irish Government and its recent predecessors. Derry city is the fourth largest city on this island. It is a part of the north west city region of Donegal, Derry city and Strabane and has a population of 300,000. It has been battered by partition but has fantastic leaders. No matter where people come from on the political spectrum, we have united to make the case for our region and access to it.
In recent years, we have had major setbacks with the A5 project. The legal delays to this dual carriageway project from Donegal to Derry city, through Tyrone and on to Monaghan and our capital city have been heartbreaking. The project has hit a wall but I believe we can get it back on track in the near future.
We also have no rail connectivity from Donegal and Derry directly to our capital city, or to the west, for that matter. The map of the connectivity of Ireland shows a stark picture. That is why it is shocking that Irish Governments continue to refuse financial support to the City of Derry Airport. Some 40% of the passengers passing through the airport come from Donegal and our Government makes no financial contribution towards it. Derry City and Strabane District Council has been carrying the can for the airport for years with no support from the Irish Government. The Stormont Executive has been funding it and the British Government has been contributing. Shamefully, our Government has abandoned the airport for ten years now.
I have received responses from the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton. I appreciate she has inherited this issue and I hope she will take a fresh perspective on it. In a response to me recently, she talked about the context of the New Decade, New Approach agreement and indicated she would carry out reviews of the potential of the Belfast-Cork and Derry-Dublin routes. I thank her for those responses and the proposed reviews. I am sure she understands, as a woman from the regions, that it is unthinkable and unacceptable for a region of 300,000 people to have no motorway, rail or air connectivity to our capital city. This has been going on for far too long.
Like all airports, the City of Derry Airport lost a huge amount of business due to Covid, but it is up and moving again. I am delighted to have the opportunity to directly make this statement to the Minister of State. What has happened is totally wrong. We talk about all-Ireland development and working together but we have abandoned Derry City and Strabane District Council to run an airport when 40% of its passengers are from Donegal. That is wrong and must stop. I appeal to the Minister of State to find a solution to this problem.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue for us, as an island nation. It directly affects several thousand workers and families in my constituency of Louth and east Meath. There is a concentration of aviation workers in these areas. There are people who depend for their livelihoods on Dublin Airport, and the aviation sector more generally, in Drogheda, Laytown, Bettystown, Mornington and Julianstown. I know the Minister of State will be aware of that.
As my colleagues and the Minister of State and her senior ministerial colleague articulated, we all understand the impact the pandemic has had on livelihoods and prospects for those who are working in this critical sector. The impact has been human and real. Not a week passes that I am not contacted by an Aer Lingus, Ryanair or DAA worker who is worried about the outsourcing of his or her job and tells me how difficult it is to make ends meet. These people tell me of their worries about making the mortgage payment or paying the rent and heating their home.
The truth is that this Government has, to a degree, supported individual airlines, notably Aer Lingus, through the crisis with State support and many millions in low-cost loans. We have, however, missed an opportunity again and again to attach any kind of conditionality to the low-cost, long-term loans and other forms of State support, such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, previously the temporary wage subsidy scheme, that were given to the likes of Aer Lingus and other organisations operating in the aviation sector. We have, in many ways, socialised the costs of bailing out and supporting the airline sector and all we have had in return is more cost-cutting, the closure of bases and the culling of staff, alongside empty claims of solidarity and tokenistic gestures from airlines.
This is a real failure of Government policy. There was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attach requirements around working conditions, pay and so on as a condition of State support. That is done routinely in modern, social democratic countries, such as Germany where conditions are attached to State support. What we got instead was thousands of short-term lay-offs, confusion around the provision of social welfare for workers who were caught in the eye of this particular storm and the reality of outsourcing and so on in a critical sector. I proposed in some detail last year that the employment wage subsidy scheme be reimagined and placed on a firmer footing based on the German Kurzarbeit model. We could have a new wage subsidy scheme as a permanent feature of the labour market to assist industries, such as aviation, to recover.
We know, belatedly, that the Government is engaging in discussions with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, with which I remain close on these issues, to seek to introduce such a measure to assist aviation, which will, as we know, be one of the last sectors to fully recover. There is no sign of any detail on that particular scheme. We have made provision in the Labour Party's fully costed alternative budget proposition, published yesterday, for the introduction of such a scheme. That will become a more permanent feature of the labour market because we know that it is difficult to recover jobs when they are lost. When a sector sheds jobs, it is difficult for that sector to recover. We were in danger of losing decades worth of skill sets within a sector that is crucial for our country. It is crucial that supports are provided but conditions around pay, terms and conditions of employment, upskilling and retraining should be attached to any future supports.
I turn to the issue of refunds for cancellations caused by Covid-19. It is not only workers who have been affected by the pandemic; customers have also borne the brunt of the crisis. We have seen airlines refuse to refund up to 400,000 customers, including many hard-pressed families who had their holidays rescheduled in good faith, in line with public health guidelines. Some airlines have been easier to deal with than others and I think all Deputies will have represented families who had difficulties with airlines to help recover the moneys owed. It was clear that those moneys were always owed and belonged to customers. The process has been frustrating, to say the least. I have raised this matter through parliamentary questions on many occasions over the past year or so.
Again, this is something that really should not have happened and it would not have if the Government was clear on the kind of conditions and behaviour it expected from the aviation industry in return for State support. I welcome last week's decision by a group of 16 European airlines, including Ryanair, to refund passengers whose flights were cancelled during the Covid-19 pandemic. These airlines have committed to providing better information on passengers' rights in the future. Talk is cheap. We have previously seen airlines renege on such promises with regards to refunds and customer service improvements, so enforcement will be essential. I call on both Ministers responsible for this area to ensure that there is proper enforcement of this agreement and that ordinary families and holidaymakers, who save hard for holidays, are treated with respect and receive their long-overdue refunds.
I am sharing time with Deputy Griffin and will be taking six minutes. The two Ministers represent the two sectors most ravaged by Covid. It has been predicted by those within those industries that the post-Covid recovery could take three or four years. That is certainly the case in respect of aviation. There has been a little bit of a bounce back in the tourism sector as a result of domestic tourism and the whole concept of staycations. That has been excellent but we will not see a full recovery until we see international tourists on the highways and byways of our island.
There is an opportunity to recalibrate aviation in Ireland post Covid and to draft an entirely new aviation policy that ensures there is not regional imbalance. Over the last seven or eight years, we have seen increased funnelling of air traffic through Dublin Airport. Some might say that is what the consumer wants. It may be what people flying into Ireland want. There could be an element of truth to that. Some might also say that Ireland is a small island and that two or three hours on the road will take one to the other side of the country. However, the reality is that the dominance of Dublin Airport in the years running up to Covid has been to the detriment of Shannon Airport in my own constituency and, to a lesser extent, the airports in Cork and Knock. There is now an opportunity to do as other countries such as Holland, Finland and Denmark have done and to grasp the nettle once and for all, overhaul Irish aviation policy and have the three airports working in tandem so that one does not dominate at the expense of the others. The relationship between Irish airports in recent years has been rather predatory. We are a small island and that does not work any more. The airport chiefs and those in the industry are saying likewise. Government needs to lead and devise a brand new policy to reflect that.
Earlier today, the joint committee met with the newly appointed chairperson, Pádraig Ó Céidigh. I thank the Minister for expediting that appointment in recent weeks. There was a very long delay which no one in the region wanted but he is there now and we welcome that. He made an interesting point, which I had raised in the Select Committee on Transport and Communications last week. I suggested that he should take on the role in a more executive capacity. At the moment, he will be chairing meetings which may only happen every second or third week. There is a feeling in the region and among those who have Shannon Airport in their hearts that Pádraig Ó Céidigh will be a very positive influence, working alongside the chief executive, Mary Considine. He made the point today that taking on an executive function over the next 12 months could be a very good thing and we really believe that. It would allow him to immerse himself in the airport as it tries to recover. I ask the Minister to look at that. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said that this may not be the best way forward but, in light of today's meeting, it needs to be looked at again.
On a further point regarding the recovery of aviation, waiving landing charges would be a great incentive. Mr. Ó Céidigh made that point in the committee room. Having led Aer Arann for many years, he knows how airports and airlines engage with one another and what kind of offers are put on the table. He told us categorically that many European airports are again offering free landing slots to airlines to stimulate demand and get the airlines back. We have supported the sector but we now need to stimulate the recovery. I hope some of these things can be looked at.
Just last week, JetBlue began transatlantic operations. Its aircraft are now touching down in Gatwick. There is a unique opportunity there in respect of budget transatlantic travel between Ireland and the United States. I hope we can look at that.
I have also worn a path down the street to the Saudi Embassy. There is a belief that we can run new routes between Shannon Airport and the Middle East. I nearly said the mid-west. We could have routes from the mid-west to the Middle East. The airport in Riyadh is craving the hub status enjoyed by the airport in Doha, Qatar, Abu Dhabi International Airport and other Middle Eastern airports. There is an opportunity there.
I implore the Minister to appoint a mediator in respect of the ongoing Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, staff dispute. The IAA has told us time and time again that it has an internal dispute reconciliation process but I am hearing from people I trust, whom I have known since I was knee high, with whom I grew up and who now work within the inner sanctums of the Irish Aviation Authority, that this internal dispute resolution mechanism is not working on this occasion. We implore the Minister and the other Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to push on and put a mediator in place. It would really expedite this process. The authority plays a very strategic role.
I ask the Minister not to penalise the aviation sector in budget 2022, with particular regard to carbon tax. We all fear that. There is a real fear that carbon taxes will be loaded on many sectors. Aviation cannot take that.
In the last minute I have, I will raise a few points regarding tourism. There are fantastic opportunities for tourism. The staycation concept has worked but much more needs to be done. Some areas I hope we could look at as budget 2022 is finalised include an extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, right up to next summer when the sector will bounce back properly and the retention of the 9% VAT rate which is enticing people out of their homes to go and spend money, to go to their local hostelries and to go on holiday to other parts of Ireland. We need to extend that, possibly for another three or four years. Other matters that should be considered are an extension of the commercial rates waiver and international marketing.
I will ask for the forbearance of the Ceann Comhairle as I go on a slight tangent. In my last speech in the Chamber, last week, I asked for assistance in getting an Afghan family who are neighbours of mine home. They are now home. I want to thank the Minister and all of his team but I also want to thank a local lady, Catherine Hickey from Westbury, on the record of the House. Day after day, she sent WhatsApp and Facebook messages championing the family. They are home and Ms Hickey deserves to be thanked.
I welcome both Ministers and acknowledge the work they are doing. They are working very hard in the Department in their respective portfolios. I thank them for that work because it is very important to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country. I also acknowledge Maria Melia from the Department, who is here with us today. She does great work behind the scenes. That has to be acknowledged because, without the work of those in the Department, who do so much, we would not be seeing the progress we are seeing. As we all know, there are enormous challenges facing tourism, hospitality and aviation in this country but I would like to acknowledge the really good initiatives that have been undertaken and the really good work that has been done, particularly over the last year and a half, since the beginning of the pandemic. We have seen unprecedented intervention in the industry from the Government in the last year and a half. The supports now given to the industry would have been unthinkable before the pandemic. We have seen a massive amount of Government support.
Of course, that cannot go on forever, but I urge the Ministers to listen very keenly to the representatives of the industry in advance of the budget. They are calling for various supports to be continued and for various other measures. These are the people at the front line and they know exactly what is needed. They are not exaggerating when making these asks. They are very genuine people. I refer to people like Eoghan O'Mara Walsh of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation, ITIC, and those in the Irish Hotels Federation. Bernadette Randles of the Kerry branch of that organisation was in contact with me recently. These people are putting in their asks for the budget. They are asking for what is needed, not for luxuries or frills. These measures are absolutely necessary. I will reference the EWSS in particular. That is very important. We need to see that continued well into 2022. I was looking at texts on my phone from the then Taoiseach dated 14 March 2020, when the pandemic was starting to grip the country. We were looking at those types of ideas and how we could support industry, keep businesses afloat and subsidise them. I am thankful that the scheme was developed and put in place very effectively and very quickly but it needs to be continued because we have seen a great loss in revenue and turnover among the businesses affected. That is very important.
The VAT rate should be set at 9% permanently. I welcome the fact that this rate has been reintroduced but the industry needs a commitment that it will be maintained indefinitely.
That is something that is very much worth fighting for and will provide certainty to the industry.
What has been done regarding rates is very welcome but hat support needs to continue. Grants and the tax moratorium cannot be taken away, but instead need to be kept in place for a long time. There is a huge challenge with the cost doing business in terms of energy and insurance. We need more action on that. We need to ensure that climate action on fuel and energy is targeted and does not make things too uncompetitive for our tourism and hospitality sectors. That is a real danger and concern for many operators.
Skills and staffing are massive challenges. We need a highly innovative approach to ensure that businesses can retain and train staff, and make the hospitality sector attractive for people to work in long into the future. That is important.
I welcome the efforts that have been made in respect of connectivity. On the Press the Green Button initiative, I note the Minister was in the United States recently and did her best to promote the country, which is very welcome. We need to support Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland with stronger budgets. The work they do is invaluable. Every cent invested in Tourism Ireland is well invested and comes back in droves for the country. It is something of which we need to be mindful in the budget. We need to support that organisation and the excellent work it does under the leadership of Mr. Niall Gibbons and his wonderful team all over the world. They have a massive global footprint but it needs to be supported with funding from the State.
Among a number of initiatives I am passionate about is developing the wild Atlantic walkway, something that is in the programme for Government. I was keen to have it included in the programme. It would be a massive opportunity for this country if we could progress that. On the other side of the country, there is a wonderful coastline from Carlingford to Cobh, which is an untapped resource. It could contribute hugely to Ireland as an international walking tourism destination.
We have made great progress in recent years on our greenway network. A lot more has to be done. I am very hopeful that the south Kerry greenway will get through the planning process and that funding will be forthcoming when it does. The target needs to be to link up the entire network to create a single cycling destination on greenways in this country. That is achievable but the funding and will needs to be there. I do not doubt the will is there but it is something we all need to work on collectively.
I am eager to make this contribution today on the reopening of the tourism and aviation sectors, two essential industries in my constituency, Clare. They prop up and sustain other micro-economies in the county. I will have Shannon Airport at the core.
First and foremost, I want to talk about the future of Shannon Airport as we emerge from Covid-19. I propose, as I have done on many occasions, the reintegration of Shannon Airport into something similar to what the DAA was, to be known as the national airport authority. As we know, in 2008 Cork and Shannon had comparable footfall numbers of 3.2 million and seemed to be on an equal footing. Fast forward ten years and there is a massive difference of 1 million after separation. We now know with certainty that the separation did not work but failed drastically. The proof showed itself in the name of Covid-19. We in Sinn Féin, along with the trade unions, opposed separation. We vigorously opposed the privatisation of Aer Lingus in 2015 by Fine Gael and Labour. We said at the time that it would cost jobs in the long run. Lo and behold, we were right. The fallout in Shannon Airport above other Irish airports exposes that fact.
One of my constituents who works for Aer Lingus was relocated involuntarily to Dublin in 2016 and is still expected to commute to Dublin more than once a week while subsisting on 60% of the usual income. Constituents are being pushed to the limit and are not alone in terms of how far they are being stretched. Shannon Airport brought in €3.6 billion to GDP annually pre-Covid and directly and indirectly bolsters roughly 46,000 jobs in the mid-west. We should aim for 2006 levels of footfall when, at its peak, the airport had footfall of 3.7 million. That is what we would call building back better.
We need to get beyond the buzzwords of balanced regional development and implement a policy that is fresh and puts in place positive discrimination to offset the unequal development of bigger players when compared to regional airports. I had the pleasure of meeting the new Shannon Group chairperson today in the Committee on Transport and Communications. He stated he still does not have access to documents. I ask that this be rectified as soon as possible. He also said that he would not put down the idea of reintegration.
I thank the Minister for being here today and welcome the opportunity to speak. I listened to a lot of the speakers. We are an island that is deeply dependent on air and sea travel, but supporting the aviation sector during the pandemic was vital. I agree that the TWSS should go forward. I was very surprised by the number of pilots who live in my area, and heard their stories and the hardship they have gone through. Given that I am from Cork, I might as well mention Cork Airport. Dublin seems to be getting practically everything at the moment. We have to regionalise and spread the influx of visitors throughout the country.
We also need connectivity between airports and the main cities and towns. There has to be a joined-up approach. We have the best people in the world. We probably have the best country in the world. We have the best scenery in the world. Why can we not promote it? We need to invest in it. That is the important thing.
Greenways were mentioned. They have been a fabulous initiative and I will always give credit where credit is due. There is a lot of excitement in my area about the greenway from Midleton to Cork, even though people would have preferred a railway line along the route. That was not a go at the time. That is another issue in terms of connectivity.
I would also like to mention the chambers of commerce in our cities and the work they do. We must remember that. We have to give credit to all of the other people who lost jobs, some on a permanent and others on a temporary basis, whether that was in shops, catering and other businesses due to the knock-on effect of the airport. Thankfully, some of the ports remained open but not at the same capacity as previously.
I appeal to the Minister and Government to keep the supports going. Let us try to open up our country safely. As I said, this is a no-brainer. We have the best country in the world. We need proper connectivity and an organisation that can sell our soul out there. If we get that right, the influx of money into the country will pay for itself fourfold. I wish the Minister well in that. I hope she will listen to the people and those who lobbied her on the budget. It is to be hoped that by next summer, we can say that we got this right.
I thank the Minister for being present for this entire debate. I acknowledge her work since she has gone into the Department. I notice that she has been back on the road over the past few weeks in the US and the UK. That is essential. I want to endorse everything that Deputy Griffin said about Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland, two superb organisations. There are people across the world in Tourism Ireland who sell the message very well and they need as much support as we can give.
We cannot have any cliff-edge withdrawal of the supports for those colleagues that are essential to our tourism and hospitality sector, including EWSS and rates supports. It is crucial that they are wound down on a controlled basis and continue well into next year because the market is not coming back.
However, there are many chickens coming home to roost due to a lack of investment in tourism and in particular, in skills training in the Irish tourism industry. I am old enough to remember CERT. It put a focus on tourism professions in cheffing, hotel management and many other areas in hotel and bar services. That model was integrated into standard training models and we have lost many skills and talent as a consequence. We need a focus on hospitality training in a way that CERT used to do. It used to use hotels during the off-season to provide on-site training. We need to once again build tourism into a career that is attractive for younger people and for those making changes in their lives. The biggest challenge I hear about from the tourism and hospitality sectors is the inability to attract staff.
I spoke earlier about Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. Locally led tourism co-operatives such as Mayo North Tourism in my constituency, do amazing work and have developed a fantastic suite of marketing tools and social media skills for local hotels. They have put a focus on this that Tourism Ireland cannot and that Fáilte Ireland do not. These local tourism co-operatives need greater funding and support and need to be allowed to continue the way they are, with a continued investment in capital projects. We had the Westport House announcement, which was very welcome and involves major investment, but we need further projects such as the proposed greenway from the Céide Fields to Dún Briste and Downpatrick Head, which was the site of the Red Bull diving a few weeks ago. It was a spectacular occasion, which will do wonders. There is also the Killala Bay greenway from Killala to Ballina and Inniscrone. I look forward to welcoming the Minister to join us in Ballina in 2023, when we will mark 300 years since the establishment of our town. The work for that is already under way by a local group, including Mayo North Tourism, which I mentioned, Moy Valley and Ballina Chamber of Commerce. A consortium of interests has come together, and we look forward to welcoming the Minister and look forward to her Department's support for that.
Aviation is coming out of the most incredibly difficult challenges but doing so in a very focused manner. I congratulate Pádraig Ó Céidigh and wish him every success. Is fear iontach agus Éireannach iontach é, agus níl aon dabht agam ach go ndéanfaidh sé an-jab. As Shannon and Cork airports, two State-owned airports, in whatever capacity, are pulled into the regional airports programme, I ask the Minister not to let that happen with a cost to the existing regional airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock. We need to continue our supports for our airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock, which, before Covid, had just under 800,000 passengers per year. We want to continue that growth. It is essential. I pay tribute to Arthur French, the chairman of the board, the board itself, Joe Gilmore and all the staff there on their work at such a difficult time.
We continue to go back to tourism. Every time our economy takes pressure, we go to tourism and agriculture. However, we cannot keep taking from it; we have to put into it. The Minister needs support in marketing, capital and investment in careers and training, and I hope she gets that support next Tuesday.
There is a common theme running through the debate and it seems to be at the expense of Dublin, so I will put some of the case for Dublin. I know the Minister is a Dublin Deputy as well as a Minister, but often in the Dáil Chamber there is a very unbalanced debate.
I never knew I had so many cabin crew and pilots in my constituency until Covid came along. The situation as of mid-September was as follows in respect of Aer Lingus. The August operation - in other words, the total number of flights as opposed to the total number of passengers - out of Dublin was just below 40% of the August 2019 level. The biggest challenge facing Aer Lingus, according to pilots, is the North Atlantic. They say the mood music now is that the reopening of the United States to tourist traffic will not happen until at least November. That is bad news for pilots and cabin crew and for tourism in Dublin. This has led to a delay in starting transatlantic flights from Aer Lingus's new base in Manchester. In Europe, as the Minister will be aware, passengers have been generally slower to come back than had been anticipated. We welcome around Dublin city the sound of new voices, and continental voices are returning slowly to the streets. However, anybody with the eyes to see and the ears to hear will know that the city has been absolutely decimated in the past 18 months. We discovered when the tide went out that that tide related to tourism and business tourism. When it went out, grass started growing on the streets of Dublin, and we need to address that.
Some of the consequences I wish to focus on, one or two of which have been raised already, relate to the cost of doing business. That has been raised so I will just reinforce it. The food offering generally in the country has diminished, probably because of the skills that are unavailable. I raised this with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, this morning in the different context of the need for training. Many restaurants in Dublin are half-empty, not because they cannot get customers but because they have insufficient kitchen staff to cope with the level of demand and can organise only a certain number of covers as a result. As Deputy Calleary said, some of the chickens are coming home to roost in respect of a complete lack of training and an utter reliance on foreign workers, including students, to come here to work part-time, which included an exploitative element. Yet we keep building hotels in Dublin. It keeps moving on. It baffles me at this stage.
Furthermore, our university system was reliant to some degree on the fees paid by international students. Those international students have dried up as a source of income and a source of work. We can see it around the city. I refer to the displaced staff, particularly in hospitality and restaurants. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I spoke about that this morning as well. I refer to people who left hospitality and have left it for good because it became so uncertain in the past 18 months that people could not bank on it as certain employment for them into the future. Skilled chefs, kitchen staff and waiters have left and taken up employment in other areas. It is not just a question of the tourists coming back in numbers; we have a big job ahead of us in re-equipping our hospitality industry and our aviation industry to face the consequences of a post-Covid environment.
I welcome the Minister's updates in the House and her ongoing efforts in the recovery of our tourism, with the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, updating us on the aviation sector. Having listened to the contributions of Deputies all over the country, I echo the importance of tourism to the real economy and the constituency I represent.
I wish to highlight the continued need to ensure that every effort is undertaken to support our regional airports, including Ireland West Airport Knock, which acts as an increasingly important gateway for the western and north-western region. I have noted in the revised national development plan that the Government is committed to continued Exchequer support and grant aid for smaller regional airports through the regional airports programme, and that is most welcome. Ireland West Airport Knock is an important part of this, along with other airports along the western seaboard. It is worth mentioning that the NDP also highlights that one major project that is committed to at Ireland West Airport Knock is the upgrade of significant apron safety enhancement, which will greatly enhance operations at the airport. I know that the capacity of aprons has been a long-standing issue at Ireland West Airport Knock. I hope this commitment also includes increased capacity to boost the number of aeroplanes that may park at any one time at the airport.
As other Deputies mentioned, our hotel sector also requires additional supports to maximise the recovery under way in our tourism sector. An estimated 5,800 livelihoods are supported by tourism in Mayo. I engaged this week with a number of people in the hotelier community on the ground. This sector contributes over €208 million to the local economy, and there is a need to ensure that the upcoming budget 2022 supports the sector at a level not seen previously. Simple measures will make a real and lasting difference. Some of these measures, as mentioned previously, are the extension of the EWSS, the retention of the 9% VAT rate until 2025, an extension of the commercial rates waiver until June 2022 and a doubling of the funding of international marketing. This would go a long way in restoring air connectivity to 2019 levels.
One final point relates to the strengthening of Ireland's inbound tour operators and coach tourism sector. This sector will also play a key role in recovering Ireland's aviation and transportation visitors beyond our gateway cities.
There is much to be done, but it remains that those working within our tourism sector are eager to step up to the plate. Every assistance that can be provided to our tourism sector would go a long way in boosting the real economy in our towns and villages across the country.
As we start to emerge from the height of the Covid crisis, there is a certain relief in the tourism and aviation sectors, both hard hit by the public health measures necessary to stop the spread of the virus. Both sectors were very badly hit by those restrictions and it will take a long time for them to recover and to regain ground lost.
In my constituency in north Kildare, I saw at first hand the financial and psychological crisis people found themselves in as diaries, rooms and venues were closed, amenities were locked up, theatres stayed dark and musical instruments were quiet. Pilots and aviation crew were hit especially hard in a sector that, historically, was somewhat insulated from economic shocks and extreme worry about how to pay mortgages and college fees and keep the whole family show on the road. Like Deputy Lahart, I did not realise there were so many people in my constituency working in the aviation sector. As a new Deputy who is not a member of the parties in government, I was acutely aware that, often, all we could offer people in these sectors was to fight on their behalf for an extension of State supports and to be kind in the face of extreme suffering.
In domestic terms, the Government's stay-and-spend tax rebate was a flop, with virtually no impact as a much-needed stimulus in the sector. Sinn Féin's proposal to give a €200 voucher to every adult and a €100 voucher to every child in the State to spend in the sectors affected made much more sense and was more equitable. Giving vouchers to citizens would provide the much-needed money and stimulus for the sectors. It is a clever way of supporting businesses by funnelling the money through families and spreading some joy after a very dark period. There seems to be confusion on the part of the Government as to what will be offered in this regard, but the Minister said last week that it might be going ahead.
The Government's plan to reopen society at full capacity from 22 October, which will have a revitalising impact on the relevant sectors, is very welcome. I look forward to welcoming our returning overseas visitors safely to north Kildare, where we have a magnificent tourism offering, including accommodation and hospitality, as part of Ireland's Ancient East. Every second business in my home town, Maynooth, seems to be a restaurant. One will find a welcome like no other there.
One only has to look at the tourism sector's GDP share to realise its importance in this country. On 22 October, society will reopen, with venues and attractions expected to be operating at full capacity. The pandemic has had a devastating effect on tourism and its impact will be felt for a long time after the full reopening of society. The sector will need significant support, including a commitment that the 9% VAT rate will be kept in place. It also needs a commitment that the employment wage subsidy scheme will continue into next year, so that the survival of these businesses is assured. The scheme should have a more targeted eligibility to ensure business that continue to be disproportionately impacted by Covid can be supported for the first quarter of the year, with further extensions if necessary.
The Government's only tourism stimulus measure, the stay-and-spend tax rebate, was a flop and did little to stimulate the sector. The feedback I received from constituents was that it did not go far enough, was unnecessarily complicated and required an input of 80% of the upfront costs, which people did not have. As Deputy Cronin said, it would have been far more beneficial to introduce a tourism and hospitality voucher along the lines of the Sinn Féin proposal, which would have given €200 to every adult and €100 to every child in the State.
In the brief time remaining, I will turn to the aviation sector. We need an aviation recovery plan without delay and we must protect workers in the sector. We have seen the recent attempt by the Dublin Airport Authority to outsource front-line maintenance work. It must be resisted. All the recommendations in the report of the aviation recovery task force, from July 2020, need to be implemented. The most recent national aviation policy document was published six years ago. That situation must be reviewed urgently. We are an island nation and our aviation sector is vital. It is time the Government gave it the help it deserves.
I am sharing time with Deputy Barry. It is more than a year since I said in the Dáil that what was happening in aviation was an example of what Naomi Klein calls "shock doctrine", that is, the taking advantage of a real crisis to drive through a pre-existing agenda. In this case, the agenda is to outsource operations, drive down workers' wages and conditions and create a leaner workforce in the interests of profit. That is what was happening in aviation back then and, in the past year, that process has deepened and extended itself. The types of tactics that are being used by Aer Lingus, the DAA and Cork Airport amount to outrageous bullying, thuggery and terrorisation of their workforces. Those words were all used by different groups of workers who spoke to me about what they are experiencing. I pay tribute to the workers who have stood up to that bullying and voted overwhelmingly to reject bad deals and, in the case of the workers at the DAA, for industrial action. Shame on the Government and the State for funnelling millions of euro to the companies engaged in horrendous attacks on workers' rights and the bullying of their workers, without any condition whatsoever and no attempt to use any pressure on them to stop them attacking their workers in this way.
Aer Lingus, for example, attempted to drive through an undermining of terms and conditions, new work practices and new, lower pay scales for new entrants. The workers bravely and correctly stood up and voted democratically, by an 82% majority, to say they do not agree with creating a two-tier workforce and an undermining of their terms and conditions. What was the reaction of the company to that democratic vote? It was to send every one of them an incredibly threatening letter telling them that instead of restoring them to the 80% of pay it had previously promised, they would stay on 60%. Let the workers try to pay their mortgages and feed their children on that level of pay. There were to be no pay increases until 2023, lay-offs from early 2022 and a series of other measures designed to intimidate those workers for exercising their democratic right to reject a very bad deal. They should continue to reject it. The State has poured €150 million into Aer Lingus from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, as well as millions in wage subsidies. There should be conditions attached to that funding such that the company may not attack workers' conditions in this way. In reality, Aer Lingus should be brought back into public ownership, with democratic planning to protect workers, protect connectivity and enable a rapid and just transition to a zero-carbon economy, which will mean a change in the nature of the sector, including a reduction in the amount of aviation activity. It is a change for which workers must not pay the price. They should be guaranteed no loss of income or jobs.
I have raised the situation at the DAA multiple times in the Dáil. The so-called new ways of working it has introduced are about outsourcing, changing rotas and undermining basic conditions and demarcation. A gun was put to the head of many groups of workers, who were forced under pressure to accept the company's plan. It has been a complete disaster. Staff tell me that outsourcing is the reason there were massive queues in Dublin Airport a few weeks ago. I have just been sent a video of the toilets in the airport, which are in a disgraceful condition. This is a result, the workers very clearly say, of outsourcing. It has been a disaster. The maintenance workers rejected the proposals in a democratic vote, to which the response of the company was to outsource all their jobs. That is what is happening. Their jobs are being outsourced because they had the temerity to reject a very bad deal. In response, the workers, correctly, voted for industrial action. The latest development is a letter to the union stating that if it proceeds with industrial action, the company will be taking an injunction against it and threatening its assets. The DAA, a semi-State company, needs to stop threatening workers and unions in this way.
I want to make a few brief points about wages at Aer Lingus. The company saved €188 million last year on employee costs, which is a 46% reduction on 2019. Perhaps we should expect nothing less in a global pandemic. However, this was the largest percentage cut in any airline in the International Airlines Group, IAG. Interestingly, Aer Lingus represents approximately 6% of that group but, historically, has contributed more than 20% of its profits. All of this goes to show that the demand for further wage cuts at Aer Lingus is not reasonable. Not only is the company seeking to establish a new yellow-pack starting rate for ground staff, cabin crew and others of €12.40 an hour, it is also pushing for a four-year wage freeze and cuts to both sick pay and shift allowances.
The case is headed to the Workplace Relations Commission but I will take this opportunity to advise workers not to put all their eggs in that particular basket. They should organise and make preparations now to defend their wages and conditions. That is a cause that is 100% justified.
The Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland, CTTC, is the largest private bus and coach operator representative organisation in Ireland. Its membership comprises companies that are predominantly family owned, with a combined fleet of more than 1,500 coaches and carrying more than 3,000 people directly. Coach tourism operators are the backbone of the tourism industry. Without them, we cannot get tourists to various sites or to rural towns and villages.
In 2019, a record 11.2 million overseas visitors came to Ireland and coach tour operators made a significant contribution to the overall success of our tourism product. Responsible for directly attracting 2 million international visitors every year, coach tour operators invested substantial sums of money in marketing Ireland's tourism product abroad. The industry carries coach passengers to every corner of Ireland, giving employment not just to coach tour operators, but also to hotels, retail and hospitality outlets, visitor centres and other small enterprises. In 2018, coach tourism helped to contribute €400 million to the economy.
CTTC members have done exceptionally well to survive and remain in business with their sector fully closed for the past 18 months. The summer of 2021 was far from booming for the sector, with reduced capacity on buses, low numbers of international tourists and a general reluctance to travel on coaches due to Covid-19 fears. As a result, many operators are now questioning both their viability and whether they will survive until the summer of 2022. If they do not survive, the tourism industry will be in serious trouble because it will have no way of transporting tourists around the country.
The Government last provided financial support to the sector as part of the July stimulus package in 2020, with an allocation of €10 million that I helped to secure with the assistance of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath. This was very much appreciated at the time. It was a lifeline the industry desperately needed. However, it took so long for the funding to be released to the industry by Fáilte Ireland - it was only allocated in March, eight months after it was signed off in the July stimulus package - that many operators had exhausted their resources trying to meet fixed costs and repayments on their fleets.
The CTTC urgently needs financial funding and has two key asks in the context of the budget next week. The Government must provide immediate funding to the sector by way of a supplementary budget allocation under the upcoming Finance Bill. In light of the significant loss in international connectivity, which is estimated to be down by approximately 80%, combined with the dent to consumer confidence as a result of Covid, this funding is vital to keep the industry afloat. Given the seasonal nature of the business and the long lead-in time for bookings, which are typically made a year in advance, the summer of 2021 was an extremely bad season, with 84% of businesses not recovering financially. The industry remains severely challenged and there is a real and acute risk that fleet and talent will be lost for good if businesses are not supported and kept afloat. Funding should be made available to cover losses in 2021. That funding should replicate the €10 million provided for coach tourism under the business continuity scheme. The implementation of the scheme should mirror what was done in the context of the previous scheme. This would be a significant help to the industry and assist in keeping many operators in business as we await a partial return to normality in the 2022 tourism season.
Provision must be made for the resumption of the coach tourism business continuity scheme in 2022 on a contingency basis. The CTTC recommends continuing funding for 2022 under the business continuity fund for coach tourism to reflect the real damage done to the sector. The sector is the backbone of the tourism industry. Without these coaches, we cannot get tourists, particularly international tourists, to particular sites and to rural areas. The exclusion of the sector from the CRSS, its being eliminated straight away from the Covid-19 adaptation fund run by Fáilte Ireland and the delay in delivering the €10 million allocated to it under the July stimulus last year have meant that these businesses faced more financial pressures than most.
I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this debate. As my colleagues have pointed out, this is a very important sector for every part of the country. In every town and village there are people involved or associated with the tourism, catering or transport sectors, as well as the aviation sector, particularly in certain areas. We must first empathise with the sacrifices they made in the past 18 months because they were closed down repeatedly. That reduced confidence in the industry and it reduced the confidence of those who were immersed in it in their ability to continue and to survive. However, some of them did survive and continue to do so. It is to be hoped that due tribute will be paid to their existence in the time ahead, and particularly in the immediate time ahead.
We must recognise the scale of expertise that exists in the industry. In the aviation sector, there is a variation of skills and good employment. Many people decry the fact that not all companies in the sector pay top dollar, or at least that is the claim, but they provide great employment and offer great opportunities to people to get employment and better themselves.
I refer to the skills that are available in the hotel and catering sectors. In the main, there are two groups of people who make their living in these sectors. First, there are the coach tour operators and those in the aviation sector but, as well as that, high levels of expertise are now required in the tourism sector, such as in the case of chefs and managers in the hotel industry. The need for such skills will continue into the future. Previously, people were sent abroad to learn the skills of the trade. In the recent past, however, people came here to learn those skills. We are at a crossroads, and we need to avail of every opportunity to fill the posts as quickly as possible so that the industry can survive. That has to be done by encouraging people who have the skills required to come here and assist in the recovery of the industry. If they need visas or anything else, that should be facilitated.
We are facing into winter, not summer, so we must gear the industry towards how best to succeed at a time of year that is not always the most lucrative. We have to gear it towards winter tourism and avail of every opportunity to encourage people to participate, visit other parts of the country and spend their money.
The industry has been a great place for young people to get a start. They can become involved in the hotel and restaurant sector and learn the trade from there. Not everybody needs to have the same skill, but their skills are improved in that area. Many schools have supplied the industry with waiters, waitresses and so on to meet the requirements at this time. There is a marked difference in the custom enjoyed by the restaurant sector. Not as many people are visiting restaurants as previously. I strongly support the points made by colleagues on all sides of the House in respect of the fact that, more than ever, we must do whatever is needed now. We must recognise what needs to be done and deal with it.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the related sectors of tourism and aviation. Both sectors are of critical importance to County Clare, the mid-west region and the entire western seaboard. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications at which we formally approved the appointment of Mr. Pádraig Ó Céidigh as chairman of the board of the Shannon Group. There is a groundswell of support for Mr. Ó Céidigh as he takes on this new role and there is cause for optimism that he will place Shannon on the pathway to recovery, with all stakeholders, including the Government, working together. There is a strong case to be made for his post being upgraded to that of executive chairperson and I hope the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, as the Government representative in the Chamber at present, will give that strong and due consideration.
Shannon Airport underpins 46,500 jobs in business and tourism right along the west coast. It is a hub and gateway for tourism and business. In the context of aviation, it is important that a recovery plan is produced and that a fund is made available by the Government to help re-establish key strategic routes such as to London Heathrow, New York and Boston. These routes should continue to be underpinned by Government supports in the short to medium term.
I am encouraged to see that Ryanair is now operating 18 different routes out of Shannon Airport. While I warmly welcome the return of the Aer Lingus Heathrow route, it is only a temporary service. Every effort must be made to reinstate this vital route on a permanent basis and to restore the three daily direct services to Heathrow that we had prior to Covid. Early morning and late evening connectivity to the global Heathrow hub is critical for business and tourism.
National aviation policy needs to be amended to reflect the importance of Shannon to the mid-west and western regions. It is important, as we emerge from the pandemic, that we put in place a solid foundation to rebuild this critical sector. I am asking that the Minister of State ensures that the findings and recommendations outlined in the Copenhagen Economics report, as commissioned by the Limerick Chamber of Commerce, are incorporated into a new national aviation policy.
Like other Members, during the pandemic I have had discussions with people who work in the aviation, tourism and business sectors. It is vital that the critical business supports continue to be made available to tourism and aviation-related businesses. The EWSS has provided a lifeline to our network of quality hotels and guest houses and other tourism business. I am requesting that these businesses, which have been so severely impacted by the pandemic, be given access to the EWSS up until at least June 2022. Equally, the rates relief made available to businesses needs to be extended to the end of the first quarter of 2022, and the 9% VAT rate must be extended for the next number of years to give this vital sector certainty as it rebuilds and recovers.
My final point relates to the importance of the suite of Shannon heritage sites in County Clare. The transfer of these sites to Clare County Council needs to be completed. In doing that, the dedicated members of the workforce at these sites must be consulted and their rights must be respected. I believe that both our aviation and tourism sectors will recover, but we must ensure that the recovery is fair and regionally balanced.
I agree with much of what has been said here today. We are talking about the tourism and aviation sectors - two sectors that were hammered by the pandemic we have been through. Some of that pain will continue to be felt into the future, so it will be necessary to keep everything under consistent and constant review. Business and individual supports will be necessary. I agree with points made previously in respect of the fact that we should never miss an opportunity provided by the sort of chaos that we have been through. We really need to look at the HR issues that we currently face and we must ensure that terms, conditions and workers' rights are protected, whether it is in Aer Lingus or in the context of the outsourcing issue relating to the DAA. That is absolutely necessary. We also need to look at what the sector is asking for as regards an aviation-specific EWSS.
Connectivity is necessary. Like Deputy Carey, I attended the meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications earlier. In fairness to Pádraig Ó Céidigh, he spoke about regional balance and the necessary steps he would take in relation to Shannon Airport. He stated that he believes there is a possibility to work alongside the DAA and others with a view to producing something that works for everybody. We cannot go on with the situation we have been in, whereby we go from panic stations to panic stations. We need an overall strategy. That goes without saying.
Points were also raised earlier in respect of necessary supports that will be required by the likes of the private coach industry. It has been hammered in the pandemic. We must provide supports to the industry. Even in the live music and events sector, certain skill sets and supports that need to be looked at. Those in the sector would say that they are afraid of losing some of those skill sets. We must ensure that these people are protected up to a point in time, which may be after 22 October, when that part the industry is able to move into a stronger position.
Across the board, we must ensure that we provide the supports required to keep these industries going. It is why we provided them in the first place. We also need to ensure that we have a policy that works in terms of both tourism and aviation.
In the short time I have, I will focus on aviation, albeit in the context of tourism. Cork is a great destination and I hope everyone will take the time to visit.
The aviation sector has taken a ferocious hit during the pandemic, there is no doubt about it. It is a resilient industry. Indeed, I think we can all expect that many of the big airlines will return to very considerable profitability quite soon. In the meantime, however, we need to ensure that our airports and workers are supported and protected. They must be given the supports that they need to recover. The Minister of State will have heard this before, and I am sure her Department and the Government are considering the need for additional capital expenditure, CAPEX, and operating expenditure, OPEX, funding streams, but - and I have been making this point for about a year now, or perhaps longer - it is vitally important that the funding to be provided for two,or, more likely, three years, because it will take that long for aviation to recover and to ensure that all the workers who would have had full-time hours in 2018 and 2019 can get back up to that and we have a commensurate level of employment. We need that commitment for several years.
It is not just about businesses. For me, the key focus is the tens of thousands of employees in the industry. Cork Airport employs 2,200 people directly and 10,000 indirectly, and many more benefit in different ways. It is a crucial employer and link for Cork and the region. I must admit that I was a bit frustrated by the fact that I and others spent months in the spring calling for the provision of supports to prevent Aer Lingus workers from being made redundant during the runway works at Cork Airport. We did not see any urgent action taken by the Minister for Transport. It was the campaigning of the union and workers that led to the issue being resolved. I commend them on that. It highlights is the need to continue the provision of the EWSS well into the summer, at a minimum, for sectors such as aviation, because it will take that amount of time for employees to get back to working full-time. Cork Airport staff need that. The airport needs certainty and funding for the next three years. It also needs a sort of air traffic recovery stimulus package to encourage routes and connectivity.
Finally, I raise the fact that baggage handlers in our airports do not have a sectoral employment order to give them stability and security in pay. Although such orders exist in other parts of the aviation industry, it does not exist for baggage handlers. We need to consider it.
The Minister of State has acknowledged that the rebuilding of our domestic tourism sector will take a long time. While staycations helped to bridge the gap to some extent, hospitality and retail in our well-known tourist locations have suffered two bleak summers. With the majority of people choosing to holiday near our beautiful coastline, inland tourist attractions have been largely bereft of visitors. Well-known attractions like the Rock of Cashel, the Swiss Cottage in Cahir, Nenagh Castle, Damer House in Roscrea and Holy Cross Abbey, which were popular stops on bus tours for overseas visitors, saw only a trickle of tourists throughout the pandemic. As a result, businesses in towns and villages right across County Tipperary and the country lost much needed revenue. As we know, unfortunately, many could not sustain such losses.
While the losses incurred can never be recouped, despite the assistance that Government aid provided, the focus must now switch to the future. Despite their best efforts, people in smaller inland tourist areas will not be able to promote their tourism gems in a way that will reach out and grab attention. I am asking Government to increase investment in promoting Ireland as a tourist destination for 2022 and beyond. Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland do a wonderful job in promoting the Emerald Isle across the globe. With additional investment, this promotion could attract even more visitors, which will help in both our economic recovery and further cement our reputation as a top holiday destination.
While aviation has been hit hard globally since the beginning of 2020, recovery is under way. It is commonly acknowledged that it will take up to three years to return to its pre-pandemic levels. Personally, I feel that it will take considerably less time than is being speculated. Travel by air is a fundamental necessity of life for both personal and business reasons. Our world revolves around our ability to get from place to place.
The importance of Shannon Airport to the mid-west region cannot be overstated. Air connectivity is crucial for regional economic development and sustainability. I welcome the appointment of Pádraig Ó Céidigh as chairman of the Shannon Group. He has the knowledge, experience and capability to provide excellent leadership at a time of unprecedented challenge for Shannon Airport and the economy of the mid-west region. I support the recommendation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, of which I am a member, that his position be given the status of executive chairman.
Expert studies and analysis have proven that Shannon Airport has a hugely positive impact on the local economy.
More crucially, they have shown that huge untapped potential exists which would not only assist with the development of the mid-west region but also the country as a whole. Shannon Airport must be aided in its recovery. While the closure of Cork Airport for necessary repair and upgrade will be beneficial to Shannon Airport for a short period of ten to 12 weeks, it requires a long-term plan to hold its place as a port of choice. Negotiations must take place with Aer Lingus to ensure it maintains its base in Shannon when works at Cork Airport are completed. This is a very important and vital measure. It would be a major vote of confidence for the future of Shannon Airport.
I very much welcome the opportunity to speak about the recovery of our tourism and aviation sectors. As an island nation, we rely heavily on our aviation sector to drive tourism so the two go hand in hand in many ways. Of all counties, Wexford has one of the highest, if not the highest, percentages of people employed in the tourism sector. Tourism is vital to the county's economic sustainability. Most of County Wexford is within two hours of Dublin Airport. If I have not said it before, we also have Ireland's most strategic port situated in Rosslare.
The nickname "the sunny south-east" refers to the fact that County Wexford typically has the highest levels of sunshine of any county in the country. We also have fabulous beaches in Baginbun, Duncannon, Rosslare Strand, Morriscastle, Ballymoney, Curracloe, Courtown, Ballinasker, Carne, St. Helen's and at many more locations.
We have our history regarding the 1798 rebellion, the John F. Kennedy family homestead and various other sites of interest such as Hook Head, Enniscorthy Castle, Johnstown Castle and Fethard Castle, which the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, will visit tomorrow. We also have the National Opera House and many more attractions that are unrecognised and in need of urgent attention, such as Duncannon Port and our marine tourism sector. It is easy to see why County Wexford is a prime destination for tourists.
With all of this in mind, I want to draw attention to passenger traffic at Rosslare Europort. Many of Ireland's and Wexford's tourists enter the country through Rosslare. I hope the Government is listening and will prepare accordingly. Prior to Brexit, the Government was almost lulled into a false sense of security by relying on an Irish Maritime Development Office report that argued sufficient capacity was available on existing continental ferry routes to absorb demand after Brexit. In the meantime, freight numbers have increased by almost 500% while the number of ferry sailings from Rosslare, with the introduction of some new routes to the European mainland, is 28 sailings six days a week in and out of the country, with incoming sailings on Sunday. This is fantastic news. I worked very hard to make some of this happen but it has to be said that any progress that was made at Rosslare Europort after Brexit is down to bodies such as the Irish Road Haulage Association, in consultation with private shipping operators, which got no encouragement from the Government or Departments.
Because of short-term charters of ships and the lack of availability of ships to charter, capacity is now dropping. We are not out of the woods by any means. Since Brexit and Covid, we have not had a proper tourist season. This means that more of a ship's commercial capacity will be set aside for tourists once the demand increases through the summer season and the tourists return. As we return to normal and summer holidays become the norm again, and we hope we will see a return to pre-pandemic levels of passenger demand on our ferry routes, it is vital that we have this for the recovery. We must ensure we have capacity to bring people onto this island. The warning is simple. As passenger traffic numbers return to normal, we will have capacity issues at our most strategic port if action is not taken. At present, ferry operators are at full capacity with freight alone. Therefore, a return to pre-pandemic passenger traffic will see an issue with either passengers or freight been turned away. We do not want a situation where anyone has to be turned away.
I have long called for real State investment in Rosslare Europort in order to develop the facilities to allow the port to reach its full potential as a freight and passenger hub. We have heard the same €30 million being announced for the port again and again. I understand that some of this money will be used to build another customs post, purely to comply with EU directives, rather than the Government asking for a derogation in respect of it and using the existing infrastructure on which we spent €11 million to facilitate customs. The portion of the money for building the new structure could be used to deepen the port and add an extra pier so we would have greater capacity to attract ships that need deeper waters and which carry more passengers and freight.
Money is easy to spend but spending it in the most sensible, beneficial and strategic way is what I want to see for Rosslare. I could head into a shoe shop and buy a pair of shoes for €100 but if they are the wrong size then my €100 is a waste and not an investment. I do not want to see waste at Rosslare. I want to see sensible investment and I would like to see it quickly. Ensuring our port is capable of catering for freight and passenger demand in a normal summer season is critical to the recovery of the tourism sector. We can only take advantage of the growth in wind energy if the ports infrastructure is significantly upgraded, the waters deepened and an extra pier is added on quay side. It is imperative that we keep the 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector. Neither tourists nor the sector itself have had an opportunity to take advantage of it.
I have many. I did not want to forget the Deputy's comments and I wanted to give a rundown through my constituency. In the context of this debate, however, the most important part of my constituency is Dublin Airport. The aviation sector supports more than 150,000 jobs and provides billions of euros to our economy. I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for being present, particularly as this is a very important and timely debate.
Many of my colleagues on these benches and those opposite have gone into detail on the supports that are there and the supports that should perhaps be extended and I agree with them. The knock-on effect of a damaged aviation sector will have a profound effect on the tourism sector, which supports several hundred thousand other jobs in our country. The ESRI and other bodies stated very recently that a strong economic bounce back is expected but we must ensure it is translated into the aviation and tourism sectors.
I welcome the recent news of a tourism strategy, which, I believe, the Minister launched. We should hyperfocus in particular on the transatlantic routes and the US market which is so crucial to Aer Lingus in particular. A significant number of cabin crew in particular are on 60% of their wages at present. This translates to 40% when we remove their duty roster payments. As the Minister and Minister of State will understand, it is exceedingly difficult to operate on 40% of wages, particularly given the number of households that employ pilots, co-pilots, ground crew, cabin crew and everything else. This is very common in Swords and other communities in the Dublin Fingal local authority area.
We have wonderful tourist attractions in my constituency. I will not go through the list of them. I would say that the Office of Public Works did a very good service to the State when it made its sites free when travel was permitted. This is something we should consider rolling out until such time as it can be determined that the sector has recovered.
Hospitality provides us with thousands of jobs throughout the country, particularly for young people who get their first job in the sector. I know there are a number of small businesses that are really struggling to get people to take up employment. This is something we need to assess. Many people have said it is because of the pandemic unemployment payment. I am not sure I agree given that only approximately 100,000 people remain on it. There are things we need to re-evaluate in terms of how we support small businesses, particularly in the tourism sector.
I want to get a little parochial. I was very pleased to see the national development plan include a proposal for funding towards the Broadmeadow project, which is part of the programme that will eventually see pedestrianised walkways and cycle tracks running from Balbriggan to Howth and that will link with the Sutton to Sandycove project in Dublin city.
This is a vital piece of tourism infrastructure in the constituency and will be a linchpin, along the lines of what the Wild Atlantic Way did to certain places on the west coast. This particular route is very significant for north Dublin and I have been a wholehearted supporter of it for many years.
I will make a final remark on the recovery of the sector, in particular aviation, and the fact that so many people are on reduced incomes. We need to continue to support them into next year and for as long as we possibly can. The sector will rebound; we just have to continue supporting it.
I very much welcome the return of aviation and tourism that we have seen in recent months. It is great to see tourists returning to our shores again and those employed in aviation being able to return to work at long last.
Tourists come to our shores to visit our stunning and scenic beauty spots, our mountains and coastlines, and to experience our bustling cities. Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Tourism, Culture,Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media have done a tremendous job in promoting Ireland as an attractive tourist destination.
Tourists also come here to sample our culture, taste our famous Irish dishes and sip on our iconic Irish drinks. Our meat, dairy and seafood are some of the best in the world. The iconic pint of stout and Ireland’s status as home of whiskey are tourist attractions in and of themselves. That is why before the pandemic, Ireland was increasingly seen not only as a great tourist destination but also a leading food tourism destination.
Building on Ireland’s strong food and drink production we have Michelin star chefs, world-class restaurants and world-famous Irish pubs. We have food markets, food trails, cookery schools, breweries and distilleries. It is a thriving industry. Food and drink focused tourists, particularly those looking for premium experiences, bring a very welcome contribution to the economy. As we emerge from the pandemic and tourists and aviation return to our shores, we must do all we can, as a Government, to encourage and nurture food and drink tourism, hand in hand with our tourism strategies, like the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, as well as the promotion of our thriving cities.
In 2018, Fáilte Ireland published a food and drink tourism strategy. The following year, it ran the Taste the Island initiative. This strategy should be at the heart of post-pandemic tourism recovery when it comes to food and drink focused tourism. Instead, Fáilte Ireland has disbanded its food and drink team. I ask that the Minister seek a reversal of this decision and ensure food and drink tourism is given the support it needs to attract tourists, sustain and create jobs and benefit communities across the State.
In focusing on food tourism, I also mention the important role our hospitality sector and local businesses play in welcoming tourists to every part of Ireland. The €7 million streetscape enhancement initiative, part of the Our Rural Future programme, was a great success in supporting rural towns and villages to be more attractive and welcoming places for locals and tourists alike. Many of my constituents in more rural areas of Dublin Mid-West, places like Saggart, Brittas, Rathcoole and Newcastle, were disappointed not be considered for this funding. Other Dublin areas such as Rush, Lusk, Donabate and Skerries were included. This left community groups in my area, such as Rathcoole Tidy Towns, feeling excluded. Making rural towns and villages welcoming and inviting to tourists is of great importance, as we all know.
I compliment the Minister on all she is doing to reboot our international tourism strategies. I ask her to consider the two changes I have highlighted, in tandem with our flagship tourism programmes.
I agree with many of the comments made by Deputy Verona Murphy. Having spent a week in Fethard-on-Sea a few years back, I concur that it is definitely an excellent holiday destination. I also agree that we should not be wasting money on tourism but should be spending it carefully and in the right way. There are many opportunities to pick the low-hanging fruit in order to significantly increase our tourism offering and the value of the current offering.
I want to talk to the Minister about Kilmainham Mill, a piece of our much undervalued industrial heritage located in Dublin city. The mill is located on the Camac River alongside the planned Camac River greenway. It is next to Kilmainham Gaol, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, and the War Memorial Gardens. Providing support for the Kilmainham Mill restoration project and creating an industrial craft heritage site on the site would multiply the effect of all of the tourist offerings in this area. Praise has to go to the Save Kilmainham Mill campaign, which ensured the mill was bought by Dublin City Council instead of falling into dereliction and falling apart.
Efforts have been made to save Kilmainham Mill and keep it going to ensure there is an opportunity for its development as a tourism site. In recent months, the campaign has not been successful in securing funding and support. As I said, this project has strong potential to establish links with other tourist offerings and to support our industrial and craft heritage, which does not get the level of support it deserves. To be unapologetically parochial, I ask the Minister to visit the mill to see the potential it offers and the hard work of the Save Kilmainham Mill campaign. If she does come, I ask her to please bring her cheque book with her.
We need to embrace our industrial heritage, particularly in Dublin. We are not providing for it. We can talk about our built heritage, including industrial built heritage, being torn down and undervalued and about not placing it on the record of protected structures but that is a debate for another time.
Another project also desperately in need of support is a proper Dublin docklands museum. We have seen big changes to Dublin Port, with containerisation and automation. All of these developments have changed the nature of the work at the port. There is a group of Dublin dockers who celebrate the rich heritage the stevedores of Dublin Port have provided over the years. Any support for them would not only be very welcome but would again tap into an industrial heritage that is undervalued and under-supported.
For the sake of the music, aviation and hospitality sectors and all the people around Ireland who depend on the Minister, I hope "Dancing in the Dark" by Bruce Springsteen, the favourite song of her party leader, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, is not her favourite song too. I hope her favourite song is "See the Lights" by Simple Minds or "Come Fly with Me" by Billy May.
The impact of Covid-19 on Ireland’s tourism industry and throughout the world has been catastrophic. We are dependent on international visitors. The aviation industry is key to this because hospitality is dependent on connectivity. Hospitality is our biggest regional employer and the industry showed unbelievable resilience during the pandemic. It embraced what it could do as opposed to what it could not do. Businesses set up takeaway services in outdoor areas and they have my admiration for what they achieved. I was delighted to see that Fitzgerald’s Woodlands House Hotel & Spa in Limerick received an international award for its outdoor dining and vision for the region. I was proud to see that.
VAT needs to remain at 9% and there must be guaranteed certainty around the current rate for the hospitality sector. I have asked several times for the appointment of a dedicated Minister for tourism who would track, liaise and support this very valuable industry, through motivation and proven targets. The stimulus to kick-start the hospitality industry needs to come from the Minister. The employment wage subsidy scheme for tourism needs to be continued at least into next summer because we can see what the hotel sector and other industries have suffered through the pandemic. Yes, they have had a good year since the summer but given the losses they incurred and the need to reboot their businesses, it is very important that the scheme remains in place.
I welcome the recent appointment of the chairperson of Shannon Group, Mr. Pádraig Ó Céidigh. I wish him well in the challenges ahead, many of which existed prior to this pandemic. I met Pádraig last night and we had a half-hour discussion here in Leinster House. It was my first time meeting him. One of the first questions I asked him related to his background, which is absolutely exceptional. We discussed different areas of his background but what stood out to me were his education, the way he conducts himself and the vision he portrayed to me last night, which was unbelievable. Moreover, he was once self-employed, something that is lacking at the Cabinet table, where we need that in the mix.
I also met Ms Mary Considine, the CEO of Shannon Group, at Limerick Chamber to talk about the common sense and the vision we have for Limerick, Shannon and the surrounding areas in order that the airport can contribute to the region. A total of 143,000 people work in the aviation industry, while 270,000 people are employed in tourism, 50,000 of them in the mid-west. Shannon Airport needs an airline stimulus package to encourage and rebuild air traffic. It also needs to be included in the regional airport programme of state aid for airports handling under 3 million passengers a year.
I made this point 12 months ago and I do so every time we talk about aviation. The only way aviation can prosper in this country is through the dispersion of traffic. Other Deputies talked about what has happened in regard to Dublin Airport, but a projected 15 million passengers will pass through that airport's gates this year. Shannon Airport will have somewhere in the region of 350,000, or 19% of its traffic pre-2019. Likewise, Cork Airport will have in the region of 35% of its pre-2019 traffic, or about 850,000 passengers. I welcome the expansion of any airport, but any airport that is expanded, such as Dublin Airport, has to be subject to a dispersion of traffic. If it wants to increase its number of passengers by 3 million, it should have to give 10% to the regional airports. That would mean the likes of Shannon Airport could return to its pre-Covid figure of 1.8 million and we could build it up to 3 million and more, which it has the capacity to do. The same is true of the likes of Cork Airport.
I live in a parish called Rahanagh, five minutes off the main road. It is located 10 miles from the Cork border but it would take me one hour and 45 minutes to travel to Cork Airport. If I had to travel to Shannon Airport, it would take me between 38 and 40 minutes, depending on whether I was caught in traffic coming onto the N20 at Anhid Cross. I can travel to Dublin Airport, however, in two hours and ten minutes. That means the proper road infrastructure is there. Farmers and industry have been held to ransom for 19 years and they cannot build for their future because there is a proposal to build a road, the N20-M20, on their land. One farmer I talked to said the road is planned right next to his farmhouse and he does not know where he can build for his children's future. We need funding and connectivity for future-proofing, not only for Shannon Airport and Cork Airport but also for Dublin Airport. We need connectivity but also balance in order that we will all get a piece of the pie. In that way, the likes of Shannon Airport will not need to be subsidised. There will be more than 3 million passengers and the airport will be well able to subsidise itself.
I am sharing time with Deputy McNamara.
A total of 70% of jobs in tourism and hospitality are located outside of Dublin. Somewhere between 15% and 18% of all enterprises in the north west are in the tourism and hospitality sector. In the context of a balance of development between the regions, support for this sector is vital. Last week, I spoke to B&B Ireland, which is based in Ballyshannon. It emphasised the need to maintain the 9% VAT rate until 2023 at least, although I think it should be permanent. That rate is important everywhere but it is crucial in Border areas. I fully support the organisation's call for the employment wage subsidy scheme to continue to June 2022 in a targeted way. B&B Ireland is appreciative of Government supports but emphasised it could take until 2024 before the sector is back on its feet.
The less said regarding the stay-and-spend scheme, the better. There was nothing in the July stimulus package. For the next six months, we will rely almost entirely on our national market, so we urgently need a substantial stimulus package for the hospitality sector in the forthcoming budget. This will help keep the industry afloat in the counties I represent, namely, Leitrim, Sligo, Roscommon and Donegal. It will help sustain initiatives such as the Sligo Food Trail and the Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, which I will visit tomorrow.
Alignment of VAT rates with those in Northern Ireland is crucial for the coach industry. There are 1,800 small businesses here and they will not be back on their feet until 2023 at the earliest. Again, therefore, targeted supports are essential for the sector. If those supports are withdrawn before the sector gets off its knees, many businesses will fail.
Aviation, just like the coach industry, is still on its knees. Only sustained Government support can offer the lifeline it so badly needs. Inward tourism will collapse without it; we cannot let that happen.
I am at a bit of a loss as to what this debate is for. What is the point of it? I appreciate that the Ceann Comhairle does not decide how the Government fills its time but what is the point? Nothing new has been announced. We have learned little or nothing and then, towards the end of the term, a load of legislation will be rammed through and it will be because we did not have Dáil time to debate it. There will be no amendments but guillotines and the whole shebang, with contempt for democracy and Parliament and so on.
I have learned two things today, in fairness. One relates to Kilmainham Mills, from Deputy Costello, which I had never heard of before. There is a nice mill in Bow River, just down the road from where I live. If the Minister is ever travelling from Scariff to Mountshannon, she should take the Middleline road and she will see a nice mill.
The other thing I learned was that 90% of passengers coming to Ireland have been vaccinated. Of course they have been, given that there is a considerable disincentive to anyone else coming to Ireland. The proportion of the population of Europe that has been vaccinated is not 90% - nowhere near it. We have the highest vaccination rate in Europe, which is great, but the obvious corollary is that every other country in Europe has a lower vaccination rate. If we want their populations to come, therefore, we will have to accommodate them. We are not accommodating them, however, and we are almost unique in requiring a PCR test. It is difficult to get a PCR test in most countries because they are used only to confirm a clinical diagnosis, so people have to present among sick people who have Covid to get a PCR test if they want to come to Ireland or even to return to Ireland.
Of course, it is not about keeping Ireland safe; it is about being a disincentive to Irish people to travel abroad, and the collateral damage is the tourists who want to come here. Money does not matter any more in this brave new future we have created. We can live off borrowed money indefinitely, if I have got that right. Where are the antigen tests? We heard an awful lot about a project involving the introduction of antigen tests. Where is it? As recently as about two hours ago, Mr. Pádraig Ó Céidigh, the new chairman of Shannon Group, was appearing before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications and he talked about how essential it will be to get in line with the rest of Europe if we want to rejuvenate and revitalise the tourism sector and those who depend on it. I want clarity on that. It is not about keeping Ireland safe but rather about being a disincentive, just as our indoor hospitality policy was not about making the environment safer but rather was intended to coerce people. If it was about keeping people safe, there would have been antigen tests and PCR tests and we would have accepted the EU digital pass in its entirety rather than just the part we could use to coerce people. The same is true of the introduction of mandatory quarantine. What a farce. There was a statement two weeks ago suggesting that on its "successful" conclusion, a total of 593 cases had been detected.
While mandatory quarantine was in being and the 593 cases were being detected, and we will find out in the fullness of time how many euro it cost, there were 151,350 cases detected in Ireland, so it was a drop in the ocean or 0.39% of the total to be precise.
Are we going to have an aviation policy in Ireland at any point soon? Until such time as we have one, it does not really matter whether Shannon Airport is part of the Dublin Airport Authority group. There are State interests competing with each other. There are two runways in Shannon yet we have almost completed building another runway in Dublin. I do not know how that makes sense from an environmental perspective. The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, might explain that. There is all this concrete, tarmacadam and so forth going into creating a runway when we already have two runways. We are going to have them competing with each other further. We are bussing people from the mid-west to Dublin to fly out of Ireland and everybody is flying into Dublin to be bussed down to the Cliffs of Moher. How does that make any environmental sense?
I return to my question: What is this about? If it is about answering questions, I would welcome answers to those particular questions. If it is just about the Government filling time because it has nothing else to do, I suggest it concentrate on the legislation that it is going to ram through at the end of this Dáil term.
I thank the Deputies for their important contributions to this debate. We are on track to remove most remaining restrictions from 22 October and this will provide a further boost to the tourism sector. In the meantime, our primary focus is to continue with our careful and gradual approach to easing remaining restrictions and facilitating full reopening from 22 October, while supporting the maximum reach of the vaccine programme and allowing time to achieve the full benefits for all those currently being vaccinated. The Government will meet in advance of 22 October to decide on the next phase of easing the restrictions and on what, if any, further guidance might be required beyond that date. Overall, I am confident that our trajectory in managing Covid is very positive. This along with the very successful vaccination programme mean that we should be viewed as a safe destination for holidaymakers. I will ask our agencies to convey this message.
With regard to supporting direct access to regional airports, I am providing funding to Tourism Ireland for the regional co-operative market access scheme. The purpose of this scheme is to promote direct air and sea access routes into Ireland's tourism experience brand regions, with matching funding from airlines, sea carriers, airports, ports and regional tourism stakeholders, including local authorities. In this regard, I am happy to report that, for 2021, I have increased the funding available for the scheme to €3 million from €2.5 million, the amount available last year before the pandemic struck. To help to stimulate inbound tourism directly into the regions, Tourism Ireland is currently engaged with a number of air carriers to support the promotion of routes into our regional airports. Aside from this, Tourism Ireland also engages in co-operative marketing with Dublin Airport to support inbound routes with strong tourism potential.
With specific regard to business tourism and related events, Fáilte Ireland recently briefed the industry on its plans to support the sector and rebuild a strong pipeline of events. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the industry and the tourism agencies, I understand that over 280 important events lined up before the pandemic, but subsequently postponed, have now been rescheduled. That is worth approximately €200 million to the economy. Another exciting event that has been rescheduled is the highly anticipated Aer Lingus College Football Classic, which was originally due to kick off in Dublin in 2020. It will now take place in 2022 with the first game between Northwestern University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In its first year, this event will attract in excess of 25,000 visitors, most from the US, and many are expected to stay for a week or longer. It is expected to generate some €63 million alone for the Irish economy next year. As ever, these types of events, including the Ryder Cup in 2027 in Adare, County Limerick, are also a fantastic opportunity to showcase our beautiful country and the many attractions it offers as a holiday destination.
As regards specific queries raised by Members, my officials have been taking note of them and we will follow up in writing with the Members.
Before handing over to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, I will refer briefly to sustainable tourism. While our focus is correctly on the survival of the tourism sector, we must also begin planning for a sustainable recovery. The global health crisis has left the tourism sector in a state of shock, but it has also provided an opportunity to address sustainable tourism development in a more meaningful way during the recovery and rebuilding phase following the crisis. A sustainable tourism working group established under the Tourism Action Plan 2019-2021 published a report setting out the ambition for sustainable tourism in Ireland as well as a number of guiding principles for sustainable tourism development. This group has also drawn up an interim action plan, which will be published shortly, that aims to promote sustainable tourism practices up to 2023.
In line with the programme for Government commitments, as I have outlined, officials in my Department have initiated the development of a new national tourism policy which mainstreams sustainability. The development of this new policy will be informed by, and build upon, the work undertaken by the sustainable tourism working group and will be consistent with our sectoral climate change targets and commitments. It is clear that the traditional model of tourism is changing and the development of the new national tourism policy gives us an opportunity to set out what type of tourism sector we want up to 2030 and beyond. Tourism has proven itself to be resilient previously and I am confident that, with the support of the Government, it will recover from this crisis and thrive again in a manner that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
Tuigim go maith na dúshláin ollmhóra atá roimh an turasóireacht agus leanfaidh mé ag obair le mo chomhghleacaithe sa Rialtas chun a chinntiú go dtabharfar gach tacaíocht is féidir don earnáil chun é a chur ar a cumas teacht slán ón bpaindéim agus tógáil ar bhealach níos seasmhaí, níos digití, níos glaise agus níos inbhuanaithe. I am fully aware of the massive challenges facing tourism and I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Government to ensure the sector is given every possible support to enable it to emerge intact from the pandemic and to build back in a more resilient, digitalised, green and sustainable way.
I join the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, in thanking all Deputies for their contributions to this debate.
The aviation and tourism sectors are among those most impacted by the Covid crisis. Civil aviation is emerging from by far the most sustained and challenging crisis it has ever faced, with many analysts predicting that it will take several years to return to 2019 levels of activity. However, the aviation and tourism sectors have benefited from extensive and unprecedented Government supports, as I outlined earlier. This is because the Government recognises that they play a key role in our society and economy. Aviation provides jobs, supports business travel and tourism, connects Ireland to new markets for exports and supports foreign direct investment by multinational companies locating in Ireland.
From early in the crisis, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I engaged extensively with all aviation stakeholders, including through the aviation recovery task force, the National Civil Aviation Development Forum and the aviation subgroup of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, which I chair. In the most difficult times, we worked together with stakeholders to ensure the resilience of the airlines and airports to survive the crisis. Later, along with international partners, we formulated a plan to enable the safe return of international travel. That said, it is recognised that restoration of connectivity cannot happen overnight. However, while full recovery will take time, I am confident that we are on the right path. I am also hopeful that the spirit of collaboration and co-operation with the aviation sector which has served us through the Covid crisis will again allow us to meet new challenges together in the coming years.
We are already pursuing regulatory reform through the Air Navigation and Transport Bill that will better position the sector for the recovery to come. At international level, aviation must respond to the challenge posed by climate change, in particular, the EU's commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. This will require investment in new technologies and fuels that have the potential to eliminate the CO2impact of aviation in the longer term. Until then, the sector must play its part in reducing its carbon impact in other ways. Before the Covid-19 crisis, the Department had commenced scoping work on a new national aviation policy. As will be appreciated, during 2020 it was necessary to shift policy focus to ensuring our airports and the sector could weather the sustained crisis that Covid-19 presented and it was necessary to pause this work. It is the Department's intention to recommence work on a revised national aviation policy in the coming months. A key part of the policy development will be a comprehensive public consultation process as well as close engagement with the aviation industry through the structures of the National Civil Aviation Development Forum.
The Government recognises the value of a strong aviation industry, as is clearly set out in the programme for Government. It also acknowledges our commitment to support EU and international action to reduce aviation emissions. We will continue to support the industry to build on the recovery in the aviation sector which we have seen to date.
As evidenced this week, with the launch of the National Development Plan 2021-2030, across that period we will see €2.4 billion invested in our State and regional airports ensuring the necessary infrastructure is in place to safeguard and enhance our international connectivity and ensure capacity for logistics, both of which are crucial to the economy. The Government will continue to support eligible regional airports under the regional airports programme to support connectivity and ensure safety, security and climate-related efficiency and resilience at these airports. All airports plan to invest in sustainability projects and moving towards carbon neutrality which is very welcome as we look to the future.
My Government colleagues and I will continue to monitor developments in our tourism and aviation sectors with a view to further progressing their recovery. It is our shared goal to see these sectors regain their key positions supporting jobs, growth and innovation in a vibrant and dynamic economy.