Thursday, 5 December 2002
National Tourism Development Authority Bill, 2002: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 7, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(5) Any contract or instrument which, if entered into or executed by a person not being a body corporate, would not require to be under seal may be entered into and executed by:
(a) two members of the Authority, or
(b) one member of the Authority and one member of the staff of the Authority, authorised by the Authority for that purpose.".
I propose this amendment purely in the interests of consistency. I observed that in similar recent legislation such as the Digital Hub Development Agency Bill, the National Development Finance Agency Bill and many others this particular subsection was invariably inserted after the provisions relating to the seal of the body in question. Why was it omitted from this Bill? What makes the National Tourism Development Authority so special that it does not need this provision? Does the draftsperson of this Bill know something that the rest of us do not know or, more likely, was it simply omitted? In that case I am putting it in as a help.
I second the amendment.
Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O'Donoghue): The effect of the amendment would be to require that contracts entered into by the authority, not normally requiring the use of the corporate seal, would have to be executed by two members of the authority or a member of the authority and a staff member. The provision contained in this section, as published, is standard. I am not persuaded that a member of the board should have to sign every contract. This is a matter for the authority to decide, in accordance with good corporate governance.
I want to be clear concerning the standard practice in Bord Fáilte. It is that the board is notified of all proposed grant contracts, all registrations and, as far as I am aware, all other contracts of significance. Once the board signifies its approval, the executive proceeds to finalise the paper work. Some contracts require the corporate seal and this is done by the secretary and chair of the board meeting. Other contracts are entered into by the executive, following board approval. To require a member of the authority to execute all contracts seems unnecessary and overly bureaucratic, especially as the authority will already have approved the general terms of the contract. Both internal and external auditors can scrutinise contracts, signed in their implementation, against the documents submitted to the board.
The system appears to have worked well to date and has not been a matter of concern to the Comptroller and Auditor General. Therefore I do not propose to interfere with it by legislation. It is a matter for the authority itself. I have asked my officials to copy the Seanad debate for the interim board. If, in the context of considering the issues raised, it believes there are procedural matters which need to be addressed I am sure it will address them and give them to the authority for attention, once it is established. This is a reasonable approach to some of Senator Quinn's proposals on the authority's internal procedures.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, line 27, after "development" to insert "(including training, education and development outside the State)".
This amendment is intended to avoid the situation, which might otherwise arise, where the authority wished to send people abroad for training and lacked the powers to do so. The thrust of the subsection as a whole, quite rightly, applies to employment in the tourism industry inside the State. That is fair enough but a narrow reading of the subsection could support the view that the training must take place inside the State.
I noted it because the George Mitchell Scholarship Bill, which came through the House, applied only to study inside the State. I put down an amendment to it which the Government was reluctant to accept. However, it examined the amendment overnight and adopted it. It was interesting to see that of those students who came from America to study, two of the first six studied in Northern Ireland. I mention this because it might be helpful. I suggest that the Minister consider including the amendment to avoid any doubt.
It is not proposed to accept this amendment. The effect of it is specifically to provide that training et cetera delivered by the authority can be carried on outside of the State. There is no need for the amendment because there is no restriction on where training might be carried out. As long as that training is in connection with the functions of the authority there is nothing to prevent it, if it wishes, from entering into arrangements with institutions in other countries to allow training of persons abroad. It is not considered necessary to provide specifically for such an eventuality in legislation.
It has long been the tradition for tourism training of certain sorts to incorporate some training abroad. CERT has over the years had extensive experience in trans-national programmes, some involving exchange students in the United States, Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Italy. CERT currently has a number of projects under this heading.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, line 30, after "of" to insert "approved".
I will deal with the amendments in reverse order. The subsection empowers the authority to "establish and maintain registers of hotels, guest houses, holiday camps, approved holiday cottages, holiday apartments, major hotels and youth hostels". In only one case is the power restricted to approved entities, namely holiday cottages. It is invidious to single out one kind of accommodation in this way. Why must holiday cottages be given this special treatment? It looks like a transcription error, in which case we should correct it.
On amendment No. 3, I suggest that the word "approved" be inserted at the top of the list so that it applies to every kind of accommodation. I suggest that we restrict the power of the authority concerning registers so that it applies only to accommodation, of whatever kind, that is actually approved. I suggest this for two reasons, the first being that inclusion on any register maintained by a national tourism body implies approval. A visitor to the country will assume that something is approved if it is included in a list from the authority.
I second the motion. As the Minister knows, there are already disputes between guest houses as to whether they are or are not on lists, because it costs money to be on them. It would be wiser to have the approval at the beginning of the list of accommodation.
I do not doubt the good intentions behind the amendment but it could have unintended consequences. The Bill establishes the authority. It does not deal with accommodation regulation functions. These are governed by a number of provisions of the Tourist Traffic Acts, which will remain in place. In other words, the core provisions which govern the day to day regulation or listing of accommodation are not touched by this Bill. Where the accommodation function has been mentioned in the Bill, great care has been taken to ensure that the terminology reflects the existing provisions which will remain in the Tourist Traffic Acts.
The text of the clause under discussion has been carefully drafted to reflect the exact terminology applied to the existing register on the Tourist Traffic Acts, specifically section 24(1) of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1939, as amended. To depart from that terminology could have repercussions on the remaining provisions of those Acts. In the context of the Tourist Traffic Acts, it would not necessarily make sense to refer to an approved hotel or guest house. No premises can use the name "hotel" or "guest house" unless it is registered with Bord Fáilte. The use of the term is synonymous with registration. If a premises uses the term without being registered it is committing an offence. Regarding the term "approved holiday cottages", presumably the term "approved" is only used because there are other holiday cottages which are not approved.
As with the other amendments, I put this one down in the hope of being helpful. I believe that it should be looked at again. I will withdraw it but perhaps the Minister would look at it before the Bill is taken in the Dáil. There is a danger of misleading tourists who will assume that something is approved because it is mentioned in the authority's reference. I am happy to withdraw the amendment if Senator Henry agrees.
Amendment, with leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, line 6, to delete "registered and unregistered".
The same applies here as in the previous amendment. If it has any interest in promoting Ireland as a quality destination, the authority will have no business in promoting unregistered accommodation. It cannot prevent unregistered accommodation from existing and I do not suggest it should. However, it should have part in promoting such accommodation. By mentioning it in the Bill we unwittingly give a seal of approval to unregistered accommodation. The National Tourism Development Authority should not be involved in such promotion. If my amendment is accepted, the power of the authority to do what it likes about unregistered accommodation will not be diminished. However, the danger of the Oireachtas giving a tacit seal of approval will be removed. This amendment is worthy of consideration because the alternative is dangerous.
I second the amendment. I spoke earlier about the unsatisfactory provisions for the registration of guesthouses. If they are all registered on one list or another, what is the point of making improvements to ensure they can be placed on a list?
As already stated, most provisions in relation to Bord Fáilte's accommodation functions will be unaffected by the Bill. The clause under discussion reflects existing provisions which will remain in the Tourist Traffic Acts and I intend to reflect the provisions of the Acts in the Bill in order to avoid unintended consequences. The text of this legislation is specifically worded to link directly into the existing text relating to the listing of premises by Bord Fáilte, which is contained in section 9 of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1957. The terms "registered" and "unregistered" are the terms used in the Tourist Traffic Acts. Section 9 of the 1957 Act says that
Subject to subsection (2) of this section, the Board may, whenever and so often as it thinks fit, publish or cause to be published a list of premises which provide accommodation for tourists but which are not registered by the Board, and may include in any such list in respect of any premises mentioned therein such information as the Board thinks proper in relation to the accommodation available, the charges made therefor and any other matters of interest to tourists. No premises shall be included in a list published pursuant to subsection (1) of this section except at the request or with the consent of the proprietor of the premises, and no information shall be given in any such list in relation to any premises mentioned therein save with the consent of the proprietor of the premises.
There can be a great deal of perfectly understandable confusion among the public about the difference between registration, listing and grading. I will briefly explain these concepts. Bord Fáilte is legally required to maintain a register of the types of accommodation mentioned in subsection 1(c). Under the Tourist Traffic Act, 1957, Bord Fáilte is allowed to publish lists of unregistered accommodation. Lists of bed and breakfasts and individual self-catering units are published each year with the voluntary co-operation of the providers of such accommodation. The Act makes it clear that accommodation providers have the right to opt out of a decision by Bord Fáilte to publish such a list.
It is often suggested that co-operation with the system should be made mandatory and that Bord Fáilte should crack down on the unapproved sector. Under section 9 of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1939, Bord Fáilte is allowed to grade the premises registered with it in such a manner as it thinks proper. The terms used in the grading of hotels range from one to five stars.
I understand what the Minister has said, but I am not happy with it. I am not talking about grading and I do not suggest that changes be made to the grading process. If I went to the tourism authority with the stamp of approval of the state in Spain or France, I would assume that the guesthouses mentioned on the official list of accommodation had been passed by the authority and had been registered in one form or another. I would be unhappy to learn that my accommodation, which I had found through an authority with the seal of approval of the State, had not been registered as the authority was unhappy with its standard. I am not talking about grading, but about registration. If the guesthouse had been made known to me by an authority of the State, I would have assumed that it would have been registered. I am unhappy with this section of the Bill because I hoped that the Minister would have found a better solution.
I understand the motive for Senator Quinn's amendment and I appreciate what he is saying. The issue for Bord Fáilte is the accommodation it should include in its list. If a premises appears in a Bord Fáilte guide, it will have been inspected and approved, regardless of whether it is registered. If it has not been approved it will not appear in the list of accommodation in the guide. I hope this makes the situation clearer.
Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 11, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
"(2) In carrying out functions under this section arising by virtue of section 8(1)(c), a contractor shall not, without good cause, impose a requirement on an operator of accommodation which is more exacting than the requirements imposed on that operator by law or by any other public authority.".
I am aware of a case where accommodation was inspected by one arm of the State, but the standards that applied were not the same as those applied by Bord Fáilte some months later. The exacting standards that apply to inspections should be universal across all State agencies and in any legislation governing such inspections. In moving this amendment, I hope to offer clarity and consistency to this section of the Bill in terms of the universal standards that apply to all organs of the State. I appeal to the Minister to accept it.
The power to contract out certain registration, grading and inspection functions to other bodies was conferred on Bord Fáilte by the Tourist Traffic Acts and the provisions of this section reflect the repealed provisions of the Acts. Contractors employed by Bord Fáilte following a tendering process become agents of Bord Fáilte. They implement the criteria governing the registration of different classes of accommodation and the grading of such accommodation. Registration criteria are laid down in regulations made by Bord Fáilte with my consent, as provided for in the Tourist Traffic Acts.
I cannot see how contractors can exceed the requirements I have mentioned. There must be freedom when grading to allow for more demanding criteria for higher grade premises and the amendment poses significant potential difficulties in that regard. The current contractors employed by Bord Fáilte following a public tender process are Excellence in Tourism Limited – which is responsible for the registration, assessment and classification of all accommodation on the statutory registers – and Tourism Accommodation Approvals Limited – which approves and lists unregistered accommodation such as town and country homes, farmhouses, historic houses and pubs and restaurants that provide accommodation.
In the recent case to which I referred, an inspectorate contracted by Bord Fáilte used different standards to those applied by the Southern Health Board in relation to the proximity of washing and toilet facilities in the same accommodation unit. My amendment intends to cover such cases. I accept what the Minister says. I will withdraw the amendment if he gives us a commitment that the practice of differing standards will not be encouraged by the Department when such inspectorates are being put under contract by the new body in the future.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 11, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:
"(2) The Minister shall, as soon as may be after making any direction under this section, cause a copy of such direction to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.".
This amendment was inspired by my colleague, Senator Quinn, who tabled a similar amendment on a previous Stage. It is an attempt to shed some light on the issue of the Minister directing the authority. I accept that the Minister may need to do this from time to time, but his position is not clear. In this era of transparency in which we live, it needs to be made clear. I am not sure whether this is the best method of doing it, but it is important that Members have some idea of the direction the Minister will be giving to the authority.
I also support the amendment, although the Minister did give an explanation the other day of why it was not required. If the Government wants something done, it can work through civil servants. This is an effective way of getting things done: it can issue instructions, change policy and so on. However, if the State sets up a separate authority with a chairman and board and entrusts it with the responsibility of carrying out a task – we could be talking about Bord na Móna, the ESB or the National Tourism Development Authority – it is giving it power and should, therefore, make public what it is asking it to do. If the State, through the Minister, is going to interfere and ask it to do other things, we should take responsibility back from the authority, keep it in the Civil Service and have things done by the Minister. If the Minister is going to make changes in what he asks the authority to do, he should publish this information and make it clear that he is changing his instructions.
The effect of the amendment would be to require potential members of the authority to be interviewed by the select committee. They could only become members once the committee agreed that they were suitable. This is obviously a departure from standard practice.
The effect of this amendment would be that a copy of any policy direction issued by the Minister to the authority under section 13 would have to be laid before each House. As in my last reply, it would be a departure from standard practice and represent an undue encroachment by the Legislature into the executive function. On balance, I cannot see how making policy directions given to a State agency as part of the operational process a matter for political debate would serve the overall interests of effective administration.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
It is important to note that this is a new authority. The Minister should not be afraid to take a step away from the traditional way of doing things. The time is ripe, with the controversies that have surrounded several appointments to State authorities, for a change to be made in the method by which appointments are made. I said before when discussing this Bill that I was not sure whether this wording was correct, but an effort should be made and this is the right time for a departure from the norm by the Minister.
As I indicated, the acceptance of this amendment would result in a departure from standard practice. It is also standard practice for a Minister to say this. The difficulty with this proposal is that we would end up with a system such as that in place in the USA, under which people are interviewed in front of a committee about their suitability for a given position. While there are some admirers of that system, I am not one of them because the nomination of any person could become bogged down in political battling. This would be unfair because any person's political leanings might influence members of the board. It would lead to pitched battles. I cannot think of any reason this system should be useful for appointments to the National Tourism Development Authority and not apply to other State boards. If a procedure such as the one proposed was accepted, we would have to depart from standard practice and that departure would then become standard practice. While I understand the sentiments motivating the amendment, I regret that I am not able to accept it.
I commend the initiative shown by the Senator in tabling this amendment which arises from an Adjournment debate we had a few nights ago. I agree with the Minister's point about the reason it should be the case for one authority and not for others. In other words, the amendment implies a national policy rather than one applying to individual State boards. Be that as it may, the Senator tabled the amendment because this is the first opportunity he has had to express his point of view. I have watched some of those senatorial hearings in the USA on CNN. They want to know everything, including the state of one's underwear.
The amendment is a serious one because there has been controversy over State appointments. If a person has qualifications – business, social, educational or anything else – the fact that he or she belongs to a political party should not hinder him or her getting that position. Where does one find a person without any political leanings? There are very few in Ireland. In any pub at night one hears everyone spouting his or her political beliefs. Following a political party should not remove a person from consideration for positions such as these. While I commend the Senator for his principles, I do not agree with him.
I am disappointed with what the Minister said. Political squabbling already takes place over appointments to State authorities. Senator O'Rourke does not like the idea of committees looking into nooks and crannies, but appointments to semi-State and State bodies are important and we should look at the American system. The public has a right to know how people are appointed. That is the reason the amendment was tabled. I urge the Minister to depart from standard practice. Someone must depart at some stage or we will never make any progress.
The American system does not apply to this sort of appointment. It applies to ambassadorial and other significant political appointments and would not be in order for an appointment to a tourism board. Even if the principle is arguable, it is being applied at too low a level.
In Ireland people normally have a political outlook of one kind or another and, happily, are not afraid to express it. In some public houses there are signs forbidding the discussion of religion, politics or sex.
We discussed this on an earlier Stage when the Minister said he would look at the issue. Members of the authority are allowed to hold office for two terms of five years each. It would be undesirable for someone to be a member of the authority for ten years. A three year term would be more appropriate. The amendment is another attempt to shed light on appointments to and the operation of semi-State authorities. New members should be introduced at regular intervals. The Minister has proposed rotational membership, but the prospect of ten year terms should be removed. Six years would be much more suitable.
Five years is appropriate. This is an important body and people need time to settle into such positions. Experience for members of boards is vital and five years is more suitable for gaining such experience than three years. It would not be helpful if people had to rotate.
There is a perception that people are queuing up to get onto State boards. In present circumstances with the inquiries that have taken place recently, some of the best qualified people, no matter what their political affiliation, are reluctant to put themselves forward. If they were told that they would only be on the board for three years, it would add to the problems. If they were to be subjected to an inquiry, it would be almost impossible.
While I have supported Senator Phelan in many other areas, the Minister is right in this case. The Bill states the term will not exceed five years. In 1979 the Government asked Dr. Michael Smurfit to become chairman of Telecom Éireann. He made it a condition that he would have a five year term before he accepted. It takes that length of time to make any changes necessary. Because the phrase "not exceeding" is used, a person could be given a three or four year term.
A five year term is appropriate. This is an important board which will oversee a vital and growing industry. Tourism will be Ireland's biggest industry within five years. Already it generates foreign revenue of €4 billion, domestic revenue of €1.2 billion and supports 150,000 jobs directly. That gives an idea of its importance to the economy at large. The people on the board will not be on it for the sun and tequila.
They will be on it because they are experts in the area. Senator Quinn is right, the legislation provides that a term will not exceed five years. There is also provision for rotation after three years. The legislation ensures a person cannot serve on the board for life, as is the case at present. People can be appointed and reappointed repeatedly. This is undesirable because fresh ideas can always make a change for the better.
No, I am deviating from standard practice. Boards should not contain people for life and new thinking is needed. This in time will be the case with virtually all boards and will become standard practice.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 11 not moved.
Government amendment No. 12:
In page 13, lines 29 and 30, to delete ", but shall hold at least one meeting in each quarter of a year" and substitute "but in each year shall hold not less than one meeting in each period of 3 months".
Equality issues have been dear to my heart for a very long time. In 1972 when the Minister was probably kicking a football around a school yard, I was standing outside the school gates getting a petition going to try to get the then Government to introduce the EECC legislation on equal pay which it was trying to delay at the time. The Leader of the House may have been outside another school gate trying to get a similar petition going.
It was a real breakthrough for women and others to have equal pay for work of equal value. I have followed equality legislation and seen the good legislation the Minister has introduced during the years. I was dismayed at the case we discussed on Committee Stage regarding Portmarnock Golf Club and the money from Bord Fáilte to promote the Irish Open golf championship. However, I will not go into that issue. People have said to me this just relates to a few women who are very rich anyway. If rich women have trouble with something, one can be absolutely sure poor women will have far more trouble. The next episode may not be, as the Minister suggested, about someone who is in a position to take a court case, which is the reason I would like it to be made absolutely plain in the legislation that we want to see the authority applying its money only to persons or associations which are in accordance with equality legislation.
I second the amendment. The spirit in which it is intended follows from the appalling situation at Portmarnock Golf Club, the venue for the Irish Open golf championship, where females cannot play. This event is being grant-aided by Bord Fáilte. The spirit of the amendment would ensure the practice is not permitted whereby a State authority would assist financially an organisation which, directly or indirectly, actively discriminates against women. The Minister, as a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, initiated the legislation referred to in the section which followed on from the good work done by his predecessor, Mervyn Taylor. This country has passed a record amount of equality legislation through both Houses, which is good in any democracy. I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment. The origins of the word "golf" lie in the statement, "Gentlemen only, ladies forbidden." The first letter of each word forms the word "golf".
What Senator Henry said was correct, but the question is whether the amendment would deal with the issue. I have always held the view that it is wrong for golf clubs to exclude women. Women can play at Portmarnock Golf Club but cannot become members. My wife is a member of a golf club, of which I am an associate member. I cannot imagine the gentlemen at Portmarnock Golf Club allowing that to happen. Certainly, if they thought it might happen, they might collapse into their gin and tonics over lunch, the consequences of which would be quite catastrophic.
I would think, as a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister is competent to answer this question, but I am not at all sure whether single sex clubs are excluded under the Equal Status Act. In other words, is it impossible to have a single sex club under the Equal Status Act? The other point I would make is that in last Saturday's edition of The New York Times, the only story on the sports pages which was not about American sport was about Portmarnock Golf Club, the Ryder Cup and the fact that it was a single gender club. The newspaper was implicitly critical of the whole issue. There was also a statement to the effect that the club was confident it was not in breach of the Act.