Wednesday, 31 May 2017
Just check the map. I agree with the Senator with regard to accessibility and this is not only an issue for people with disabilities but also for young parents. We had an experience recently where we went to London and it was horrendous pushing a buggy around. Try it sometime. As I said to my wife, God only knows how a person with a disability would manoeuvre around. It is right to acknowledge that a lot of progress has been made in Ireland but for people with disabilities and for young parents especially, accessibility is a problem. We came to Dublin in the not so distant past and there was a sign in a pub on the southside of this city, I will not name the suburb because people will find it, saying 'no buggies'. That is not welcoming in this day and age.
I want to address the comments of the Senators who had the courtesy to stay. Some did not even come to my opening comment, came in then and criticised us for not doing enough and then did not stay for the closing remarks, so I will not refer to Senator Mullen's comments.
Regarding VAT, it would be completely remiss of me if I did not take issue with the suggestion that sustaining the 9% VAT rate was not a good idea when we needed it in the last budget. My view is that it should be sustained into the future. Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to the roads into Connemara. I can tell the Senator that there will be very few people travelling those roads if his colleague gets his way because at the end of the day we are not yet in a situation, from a regional tourism point of view, where we can throw the baby out with the bath water. Talk to any hotelier in provincial Ireland, in my part of the country or in Senator Ned O'Sullivan's part of the country or anywhere else, and the stark reality is that the 9% VAT rate is still needed in provincial Ireland. We cannot regionalise VAT, much as I would like to, so it is completely irresponsible for a party to suggest that we should just abolish it. Approximately 35,000 people are at work in Irish tourism and hospitality today, more than when we went into government in 2011, and two measures contributed massively to that. The first was the abolition of the travel tax. There was a time when we charged people to get into and get out Ireland - how cracked was that? The second was the 9% VAT rate. I do not make any apologies for that to anybody. It was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do in the last budget and I hope it is sustained. I am not the Minister for Finance but I hope the new Minister for Finance will take this on board.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of training. She is right, the speed at which we are getting training out there is not acceptable. We will hopefully have news on this shortly through Fáilte Ireland and through the officials in my own Department. At the rate at which apprenticeships are being rolled out at the moment, it would take an average of 30 years to get through a hotel. That is completely unacceptable. I am not in favour of a new agency but Senator Byrne is right. There is a blueprint already through the education and training boards and I know that Senator Humphreys also raised this issue with me before on a commencement matter here. It is a matter that I am taking seriously.
Several Senators mentioned the midlands. They will be delighted to know that in the not too distant future Fáilte Ireland will be bringing its initial proposals together on this. It is not just about lakes and so on. I have said in both this and the other House that we have an area from east Donegal down to the outskirts of Cork city that needs attention. Fáilte Ireland is already doing that in their capital investment programme and in its marketing programme. That is being primarily driven by the local authority tourism strategies, of which County Tipperary is a fantastic example.
Regarding Ireland's Ancient East, Fáilte Ireland was the developer of this. Its remit under legislation is very clear; it is the national tourism development authority of this jurisdiction. We cannot take brands like Ireland's Ancient East or the Wild Atlantic Way across the Border into another jurisdiction. We can work with them, however, and we are doing that. When I was up in Donegal recently my colleague, Deputy Joe McHugh, pointed out that when one leaves Belfast Airport among the places that one is guided to are the Causeway Coast and the Wild Atlantic Way. That collaboration in local authorities is already happening and airports are addressing it-----