Seanad debates

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

10:30 am

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for coming in today at an important time for the tourism industry, needless to say not only in my own county of Kerry, but throughout the country. Many people are visiting Ireland who have never visited before and most of them are from Dublin.

The Minister is more than welcome to come to Kerry. When Senator Ned O’Sullivan gets into the Chamber I am sure he will also extend this invitation. As the Minister knows, tourism is one of the big economic drivers in Kerry and Donegal and is the main industry in many towns, none more so than in Kenmare and Killarney. They are concerned about pubs reopening because many of them may never reopen as a result of the pandemic. We welcome the Minister both to the Dáil Chamber and the Seanad simultaneously and look forward to her statement on tourism.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus fáiltím roimh an deis seo labhairt leis an Seanad inniu faoi earnáil na turasóireachta agus faoi na dúshláin atá roimpi faoi láthair mar thoradh ar phaindéim Covid-19. I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad today to speak about the tourism sector and the challenges it is facing as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is right and proper that the primary focus of the Government is on the public health crisis response. Nevertheless, we must ensure that we do our utmost to help our economy to recover from the worst short-term economic shock in the history of the State.

The tourism sector has made a huge economic and social contribution in recent years and played a leading role in driving the recovery from the last economic downturn. Tourism plays a pivotal role, particularly in rural and regional Ireland, with most earnings retained within the country. Heretofore, as a labour-intensive sector directly contributing to over 11% of employment, tourism has been a leading job creator, supporting 260,000 jobs in 2019 - Ireland's largest indigenous sector.

In normal circumstances, tourism provides diverse employment opportunities, including for those unable to work full-time. Tourism also provides employment in rural communities and other economically disadvantaged locations where alternative opportunities can be limited. Approximately 70% of tourism jobs are located in regional and rural areas outside of Dublin.

Tourism is a significant exporting sector, with the majority of tourism spending being generated by overseas tourists. In 2019, international tourists spent more than €5 billion in Ireland compared with approximately €2.4 billion spent by residents of Ireland, North and South.

Tourism is one of the most directly affected sectors in this current crisis. The impact of Covid-19 on tourism globally has been overwhelming and immediate, with unprecedented consequences for Ireland's tourism industry. Over the past four months, the Irish tourism industry has been decimated. The devastation being experienced in the sector is unprecedented, and I sincerely empathise with those who have lost their jobs or livelihood as a result.

Both international and domestic tourism has been very severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. International tourism has collapsed, and the OECD estimates that the impact of the crisis on the tourism industry could result in a 60% to 80% decline in international tourism in 2020, depending on the duration of the crisis and the speed with which travel and tourism rebounds.

Ireland's tourism sector is deeply dependent on overseas visitors, who account for 75% of overall tourism revenue. While increased domestic tourism will undoubtedly help make up for some of this, only a proportion of this activity could be expected to be offset by domestic tourism. Fáilte Ireland estimates that a write-down of 2020 overseas tourism business would mean an overall loss to the economy of €2.1 billion this year, with associated job losses of up to 180,000.

The July stimulus measures agreed at Cabinet last Thursday are a significant part of our response to the Covid-19 crisis and will help ensure Ireland's businesses get back on their feet and that as many people as possible can return to work when it is safe to do so. The Government is working on a longer-term national economic plan to be finalised in October, but the new supports are critical for the sustainability of the tourism sector and for the Irish economy as a whole over the coming months. They provide vital supports for businesses to retain existing jobs and to create new jobs, and they will help build confidence in consumers and communities throughout Ireland.

I worked very closely with my ministerial colleagues in Cabinet, and the measures announced provide much-needed supports to the tourism sector. The new employment wage support scheme will greatly benefit tourism enterprises, especially due to the labour-intensive nature of the sector. Both the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the new employment wage support scheme will run in parallel from 31 July until the temporary wage subsidy scheme concludes at the end of August. This will provide additional flexibility for employers with new hires and seasonal workers who were not previously eligible. The inclusion of seasonal staff and new employees is particularly welcome for the sector, which provides employment to thousands of seasonal staff, especially in rural areas.

To help businesses stabilise, reopen and redeploy their staff, enhanced direct grants will be provided from a revised restart grant. This grant was increased and extended, with an additional €300 million in funding being provided. These changes mean that a grant of up to €25,000 is available to more enterprises in the tourism sector. A number of businesses, such as bed and breakfast premises not previously included in the scheme, are also now eligible.I am pleased that the Government found a way to assist the hard-hit bed and breakfast sector. Combined with Fáilte Ireland's adaptation fund, the restart grant will now greatly assist many more tourism businesses.

Covid-19 is having a devastating impact on tourism demand. The stay and spend initiative will help stimulate demand in the very challenging shoulder and off-peak seasons. This incentive, which will run for the period from 1 October 2020 to 30 April 2021, will incentivise taxpayers to support domestic providers of accommodation, food or both during the off-season, providing much-needed support to a particularly impacted sector. Revenue will provide an income tax credit of up to €125 per taxpayer, or up to €250 for a jointly-assessed married couple for spending on accommodation, food, and non-alcoholic drinks. The tourism and hospitality sector depends on high footfall and businesses are highly aware of the importance of implementing public health measures in preventing the spread of Covid-19. However, the social nature of the businesses means that adapting premises is another expense in a sector that has already suffered more than most. I was therefore very pleased to announce an adaptation fund of €26 million to help tourism and hospitality businesses to cover the costs of adapting their premises to meet public health requirements and make them safer for customers.

I am aware of how badly the coach tourism sector has been impacted by the crisis. These businesses are a vital part of Irish tourism and we will need them when our overseas visitors return. That is why I have asked Fáilte Ireland to develop a business continuity scheme to help these businesses through this very difficult period. Fáilte Ireland will now engage with the sector to develop this scheme, which has been allocated €10 million in funding. Further measures which will benefit the tourism sector include the €2 billion Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme, the package of liquidity and enterprise investment measures to support small companies and microenterprises, the corporation tax refund, the income tax relief for the self-employed, the warehousing of tax liabilities and the extension of the waiver of commercial rates for a further three months.

These measures will supplement the other supports already in place and the excellent work being undertaken by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland in supporting the tourism sector in its time of greatest need. The overall package of direct employment supports, cash grants, demand stimulation measures and tax reliefs will make a real difference to the bottom line of tourism businesses right now. I know that the tourism industry has called for other longer-term supports such as a change in the VAT rate. These will be considered as part of the work on the national economic plan in October.

As Senators are aware, the tourism recovery task force is preparing a tourism recovery plan which will include a set of recommendations on how the Irish tourism sector can best adapt and recover in the changed tourism environment. The plan will identify priority aims, key enablers and market opportunities for the sector for the period from 2020 to 2023. Since it first met at the end of May, the task force has undertaken a widespread stakeholder consultation process whereby any sectors and parties with an interest in tourism have been able to provide constructive inputs and innovative ideas on how this economically vital sector can adapt and recover in a meaningful and sustainable way. Furthermore, the task force has heard directly from several stakeholders in the past two weeks with a view to informing its deliberations as it works towards a final report. I expect the final report from the task force in the autumn and will carefully consider its recommendations at that time.

Fáilte Ireland recently unveiled its new national domestic marketing campaign, Ireland, make a break for it, to the tourism and hospitality industry and it has since gone live across all media. This is a major drive to encourage people to take domestic breaks this summer. I will be taking my family holiday in Ireland in the coming weeks and I encourage anyone who can to take the opportunity to enjoy our excellent tourism offerings. Fáilte Ireland research shows almost nine in ten people want to ensure that the appropriate safety measures are in place if they are to consider taking a domestic break in Ireland this year. Responding to these insights on safety, Fáilte Ireland recently launched a new Covid-19 safety charter, designed to stimulate demand and boost public confidence in the safety of tourism businesses. The charter, which is based on operational guidelines for tourism businesses, is now available to applicants on the Fáilte Ireland website. More than 1,000 businesses have signed up to it so far.According to Fáilte Ireland's research, 60% of people are now planning breaks in Ireland in the next six months. Many intend to extend their short breaks from two or three nights to four nights, and 40% of those who intend to take short breaks booked them in the past two weeks, which is a significant increase on previous numbers.

Tourism Ireland is undertaking an extensive Covid-19 programme of research in our major markets to identify when consumers are ready to consider holidaying again and which of our markets offer us the best short-term prospects. This research is considering potential source markets and will then analyse when promotion of the island of Ireland should begin and where marketing should be targeted. The insights gained will ensure that Tourism Ireland's promotional plan is as targeted and motivational as it possibly can be in order to drive a strong recovery for tourism to the island of Ireland as quickly as it is possible to realise it. With regard to international tourism into Ireland, the tourism agencies are guided in all their decisions by public health advice. In line with the advice on non-essential travel, there are currently no paid advertising campaigns by Tourism Ireland in overseas markets about coming on holiday to Ireland.

The incidence of Covid-19 has been rising in Ireland over the past two to three weeks. This is aligned with the experience internationally. It is difficult to keep the virus suppressed while also easing restrictions. Overseas travel increases the risk of importing a higher incidence of the virus into the country. In order not to lose the gains we have worked so hard to make, now more than ever we need to stay vigilant and follow public health advice. Everything we are asking people to do is aimed at protecting the vulnerable and ensuring we can get to a point where schools can reopen and vital health services can be resumed. We cannot completely ban overseas travel because we are a small open economy and many people depend on trade for their livelihood. Many people need to travel to and from Ireland to carry out essential functions. There are also essential supply chains from overseas relying on these routes and connectivity to bring food, medicines and other products to Ireland that are critical to our health and for economic activity. Travel is also necessary to allow people to perform essential work, care for family members overseas and return to the country. For that reason, international travel must continue.

The agreement reached recently on the €750 billion European Union recovery package represents a very positive step. The package will consist of €390 billion in grants, with €360 billion to be distributed as loans to member states. The eligibility criteria for these funds include objectives that will provide supports for small businesses, tourism, culture and natural heritage, among a range of other areas.

I am under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task ahead, particularly with so many competing priorities. At the same time, given the importance of the sector, especially in regional and rural locations, I realise it is critical that we save as many of these jobs and businesses as we can. The July jobs stimulus measures agreed at Cabinet last week, the other supports already in place, together with the assistance being provided by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland will, I have no doubt, save many tourism and hospitality jobs and businesses all around the country. Together with the industry, the tourism agencies and the Department, I look forward to building on our natural advantages and working to ensure the sustainable development of tourism in the coming years.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister, who is very welcome to the House. I wish her all the best in her new role in a new Department that has responsibility for media. I look forward to working with her as my party's spokesperson in that area not just in discussing the industry here but what is happening internationally. We saw what happened in Hungary last week when the staff of an entire newsroom resigned from the last independent news organ in that country because of state interference. I look forward to discussing such matters with the Minister when she returns to the Chamber.

This morning, we are dealing with the crucial tourism industry and I thank the Minister for what she has set out in her comments this morning. In preparing for the debate, the phrase "lies, damned lies and statistics" came to mind.People attempted to make arguments from all sides and some amount of statistics have been produced. Yesterday, I read the Minister, Deputy Ryan's response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Michael Healy-Rae on the numbers arriving into Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports. That prompted a headline that 6,000 people were flying into Ireland every day, a third of them from the UK, 700 from Spain and 160 Yanks. One would get the impression, reading the sub-editor's headline, that this was a tsunami, however the CSO statistics show otherwise. On Sunday last, Sky News produced a special report from Ireland on the impact of Covid-19 on the Irish tourism industry which it filmed in Mayo. It focused specifically on the loss of the British market. A total of 5 million UK residents visit here in a normal year, and €1.4 billion of the €5 billion international market mentioned by the Minister is their spending. The 1,500 UK residents arriving into Ireland are a long way short of reaching the 5 million in a normal year, and the lost spend. I wish to focus on the spending of tourists. The Minister and the Government are doing everything possible to salvage the season through a focused range of measures for the domestic market. However, spending by the domestic market is notably less. Cork was mentioned in the reply to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. The last available figures for Cork had 2.7 million people visiting "the real capital", of whom 1.6 million were from overseas and 1.1 million from Ireland. It is evenly balanced enough in visitors but the real difference is in the value of their spending. The overseas visitors were worth €631 million to Cork compared to €200 million from domestic visitors. Despite the hope of a big staycation surge in August, of which I will be a part as I am travelling to Kerry to try to boost the Cathaoirleach's county-----

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator can drop in for tea any time.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach. The fear in the industry, and among the ancillary industries that survive off it, is that the money circulating will be significantly down. The Minster has said that on her worst case scenario figures, that spending could be down by €2.1 billion. In Kerry alone, Ireland's tourism capital, anticipates a loss of €400 million this year. According to Fáilte Ireland, every €1 million in tourist expenditure supports 27 jobs. The OECD estimates a 60% to 80% decline in international tourism which is hugely worrying.

The Government schemes to keep as much of the industry alive is welcome, especially the restart scheme and the additional €300 million in direct grant funding, the €10 million to help tourism businesses adapt and the stay and spend initiative, however there will be casualties. The impact of the loss of international visitors this season on jobs could be 180,000 of a workforce of 260,000. How many of those beyond the PUPs would be considered permanent job losses in the short to long term? Does that figure include the ancillary jobs created by tourism? Has the Minister liaised with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation on this?

On hotels that may not reopen, have local tourism boards, including Boyne Valley tourism, liaised with the Department on any problem with beds? When I served on a tourism board in Meath 20 years ago, the biggest thing was trying to build up hotel capacity. Will they be hit? While I am on the subject of hotels, I might mention pub closures which may not be under the Minister's remit. The 10 August date is at the front of many publicans' minds. For hotels that might close, it is about more than job losses now but future losses. During the lockdown, The Irish Times analysed large hotel developments planned prior to the outbreak of Covid.Have we an analysis from the director of planning in each of the counties where projects may not now happen as a result?

Appearing before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response last week, representatives of the Irish Airline Pilots Association stated Aer Lingus could be wound up if it is not given state aid and that it is losing €1.5 million every day, with very little income coming in. There is the potential for its owner, IAG, to sacrifice our national carrier to protect its pillar airlines of British Airways and Iberia, which is getting a large subvention from the Spanish Government. Does the Minister believe that is a real possibility, and has she and the Minister with responsibility for transport, Deputy Ryan, held discussions on this aspect? How real is the claim made by the pilots' union before the committee last Friday as to the winding up of Aer Lingus by its owners, IAG?

The Minister might now put on her other hat, as the Minister with responsibility for sport. It is very important, as part of the overall summer for Irish people and more widely for Irish culture, hat the GAA season is under way again. In the context of what we are encouraging people to do with regard to staycations, that will be a key component of attraction for people. A limit of 200 patrons, however, is allowed into such games, and that includes the players, the squads and so forth. Last week, the size of the crowd at games in the North of Ireland was increased to 400 people by the Northern Ireland Executive, which has created a divergence in what is an all-Ireland association. I urge the Minister and the Cabinet to re-evaluate that position. Liaising with Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, we have had many ongoing discussions to try to find a solution where social distancing can be carried out at large grounds, given the importance of the GAA to Irish culture and what is at stake here this summer. It would be a great statement of support for Irish communities if that change could happen in the coming days, and I urge the Minister to examine that.

I again wish the Minister well in her role. She has outlined the crucial nature of this industry to our economy. I hope we can survive this summer and save as much of the industry as possible.

Micheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the Minister on her appointment and look forward to working with her in the coming years in her various briefs. I have been chairman of the County Longford tourism committee for seven years and have been involved in developing the product in our county, which had the lowest tourism numbers for many years. I was heavily involved in the development of the start of the Royal Canal, which next summer will run the whole way from Spencer Dock to Cloondara in Longford. We hope it will be as successful as the Waterford greenway has been for tourism in the south east. We were low in numbers but we developed a strategy and employed a tourism officer, and we are working to develop the product we have.

Needless to say, the opening of Center Parcs has done wonders for us as a county, through not only promoting the area but also providing more than 1,000 jobs and increased sales in the ancillary businesses throughout that area of south Longford and the wider midlands. I take this opportunity to wish Daragh Feighery and his team well. Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of the opening of Center Parcs. We had a meeting at 9 o'clock this morning with the County Longford tourism committee, of which Daragh is a member. The park has reopened its spa and sub-tropical swimming area to guests. The numbers are up and Daragh is quite positive about the prospects of people coming to stay and holiday in Longford.

I am also involved in our new brand, the Hidden Heartlands, as was the former Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran. We always believed we needed a product to promote us and we relied on Ireland's Ancient East for a number of years, which was not a natural fit. I take this opportunity to thank Paddy Matthews, Sarah McCarthy and the team involved in that who do tremendous work in promoting the midlands as a brand.

Economically, tourism was hit immediately when Covid-19 came and it will be the last sector to recover. I thank the Minister, her officials and the Government for recognising this and introducing the ten measures that were announced in the July stimulus plan last week, such as the business adaptation grant of €26 million and the coach tourism continuity scheme, which was raised in the House by Senator McGahon last week. I have family involved in that industry and it has been decimated, not just in terms of school transport but also because there are virtually no coach tours.However, I am feeling positive for 2021. Many tours that were cancelled, especially coming from America, have not looked for refunds but want to move their bookings on to 2021. That is positive for the year ahead if we keep going well with regard to Covid-19. The stay and spend initiative is fantastic. It is incumbent on all Members to holiday in Ireland, promote the fact that we have stayed in the country and give something back into our economy. The Minister said she was going on holidays in Ireland. She is more than welcome to come to Longford. It is not far away from her home county of Monaghan in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands.

I refer to the wage scheme and restart grant. Issues around some of the schemes have been brought to my attention by people involved in the sector. A number of businesses or tourist centres are not rateable for the purposes of the restart grant. Some are run by voluntary agencies, such as the Maria Edgeworth centre in Edgeworthstown in my own home county, which is backed by Fáilte Ireland but run by a voluntary committee. It has no visitors but it is not open to the committee to apply for a restart grant due to the fact that the centre is not rateable. On the credit guarantee and rates waiver schemes, the rates waiver scheme is only available to bed and breakfast accommodation that is registered with Fáilte Ireland. A large number are not registered with Fáilte Ireland for whatever reason, although I believe all should be. They are not eligible to apply even though they are in the industry. There are only ten in my county. On tax refunds, are income tax relief and tax warehousing enough? We also need guidelines for businesses with regard to people coming into the country. In a restaurant in Galway that is full of local people, if two international people come in, how do we know they have self-isolated? Can the person refuse to allow them to come in if they have not? These guidelines need to be put there for the people in the industry.

Tourism is at the core of our economy and it is extremely important that it is rebuilt and developed throughout the regions. As a Government, we need to continue to support it throughout the crisis and into 2021 and beyond. We need to look at areas where the bed nights are not up. The recent Fáilte Ireland figures state that they are up in the rural areas but the cities are still down. I think they are down around 30% in Dublin with the lack of conference centres. We need to look at those figures and consider an increased suite of funding for them.

Is Fáilte Ireland committed and is the funding for the capital projects that it started with to continue? I think of the Knights and Conquests Heritage Centre and the Norman heritage village in Granard, County Longford, which is a €4 million project. They only dug ground last week. I want a commitment that the funding is there for those projects to be finished out. We also have the mid-Shannon wilderness park which has been proposed for the boglands in south Longford as part of the just transition. Will that funding be in place going forward?

I look forward to working with the Minister in supporting tourism throughout the crisis, implementing the stimulus package and providing a new stimulus where it is needed as part of the national economic plan. A VAT reduction is extremely important to the industry. It worked in 2010 and I feel it will work again. It needs to be considered. I concur with Senator Cassells with regard to the limits at sporting events. I am also involved in the GAA. For local club games in my own county at the weekend they had to sell tickets online for people to be able to go to games. The limit of 200 is incorrect. A GAA field perimeter is 500 m and 240 people can stand 2 m apart outside the playing area. That really needs to be looked at to increase it to 500 or at a minimum that the 200 would not include the people on the field. It would allow more people to go to our games. My brief covers arts, media, tourism and sport. I look forward to working with the Minister and wish her well.

Sharon Keogan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I wish her well in her new role as Minister with responsibility for media, arts, tourism, culture, sport and the Gaeltacht. However, it is a cause of great concern and disappointment not only to me, but to those in the tourism industry, which in normal times contributes in excess of €9 billion to the economy and employs more than 250,000 people, that tourism sits amid six other important portfolios.

Two weeks ago in the House, I suggested pre-flight Covid testing. The Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, which is a State-run agency and whose representatives are currently in Leinster House appearing before the Covid-19 committee, is suggesting the exact same solution. I am delighted to see that someone is listening. Is the Minister listening and will she lead on this matter?

I do not have to tell the Minister that the tourism industry is on its knees. Covid-19 has essentially switched it off overnight. Although it had been facing challenges, the industry was set for another bumper year of growth. We were told that projections showed record figures and growth upon growth, with 11 million foreign visitors and something similar domestically. Even in the face of Brexit, the situation looked challenging, but we were ready. Brexit budgeting of €47 million had been announced on top of the €186 million Fáilte Ireland budget. That is what we spent last year. How are we to spend that money this year?

We have increased access from China. The US was set to herald wave upon wave of new market opportunities. The overwhelming success of the Wild Atlantic Way was to be emulated by the soon-to-be-successful Ireland's Ancient East, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, the Spirit of Dublin and offerings from our friends in Tourism Northern Ireland. As as we know, marketing works 50% of the time. We just do not know which 50%. What happens now? What are the Minister's plans? Were is the political leadership? What is she going to do about this?

The Fáilte Ireland Authority's board consists of a chair and 12 appointed members. A list of highly eminent names and all experts within their given fields and sectors, they have to be commended on their contribution to the industry as a whole, but with a budget touching on €250 million of public funding, where is the political accountability? Where is the Minister in all of this? What is her role?

The emphasis has been well and truly placed on the international visitor while placing the domestic visitor as an additional bonus. We have placed most of our eggs into the international basket. We find ourselves in an environment where we have not been cultivating a stay-at-home mentality in what appears to have been a concession based solely on meeting the needs of the international. As we look to the future of international travel in the short to medium term, we see the new trends emerging, the continued uncertainty that the pandemic has brought and the possibility that, with the ease of international movement, viral spread may become more and more a part of our new reality. What is the Minister's plan for that? We must shift an element of our focus to that likelihood.

Our domestic tourism industry has suffered greatly, but not only from the direct effects of Covid-19 and the necessary measures taken to lessen its impact or from the effects of mixed messaging by this indecisive Government. The industry will continue to suffer unnecessarily from the effects of what could be interpreted as an international priority focus. What is the Minister's view on this? There are people listening who need to know. There are 180,000 jobs at stake. We need to know what we plan is.

A new emphasis needs to be placed on a true partnership model, where the strategies employed by our tourism industry are held more closely to scrutiny and where the measure of success is not based solely on figures at the airport, which is something that we will have to change, but also on the lived experience of the domestic visitor and citizen and how tourism can be supported to become part of our cities, towns and village communities, something that has to date been paid lip service but can pay dividends.The current and welcomed Fáilte Ireland strategy of encouraging visitors away from the more prestigious sites in an attempt to spread the visitor load has yet to materialise and the development of the much-vaunted new and exciting visitor experience development plans remains unfinished. There are many examples of success within our tourism industry at a national and local level, including Boyne Valley Tourism, Westport, Donegal and Kerry, and those responsible should be recognised and congratulated. The flow of Covid-19 information to the sector has been solid and consistent. However, there are many examples of soft and easy goals being missed. Strategies have been pursued that have now been exposed and found to have fallen short. Does the Minister agree with that?

The financial supports are not sustainable. Our tourism industry is not looking for a handout, but for a hand-up at a time when it urgently needs it. While short-term investments are needed, we need to reassess how we do tourism and who does it. At this time of change and flux in a new world, now is the time to create a single decision-making forum with a focus on drawing together national and regional tourism interests, the OPW, the National Monuments Service and the local authorities. Such a forum should work to create a roadmap for our beleaguered tourism industry and to act as a conduit for the real discussion which must take place about the future of who we are and how we present our story to the world and to ourselves. Does the Minister agree that in light of the changing circumstances I have outlined, we need to grab hold of this now if we are to have a tourism industry that will survive? It demands it.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim buíochas léi as an ráiteas cuimsitheach atá leagtha amach aici dúinn inniu. Tá mé fíordhíograiseach ó thaobh cúrsaí turasóireachta de, go háirithe nuair a chuireann siad lenár bpobal agus lenár n-eacnamaíocht. The Minister is very welcome to the Seanad and I wish her well during her term of office. She will be aware that Sinn Féin proposed to give a voucher to every man, woman and child in the State. The staycation voucher plan would have given €200 to every adult and €100 to every child to ensure everyone can avail of a helping hand to enjoy a holiday this year. Sinn Féin’s plan would have put money directly into the pockets of people who would then have put the money into the tills across the State. This would have given a much-needed boost and lift to our tourism sector. The plan was simple, effective and costed.

Unfortunately, the Government's stay and spend approach will exclude those on low pay, carers, the vast majority of pensioners and people who have lost work during this crisis, all of whom are in desperate need of a break. There were high expectations within the hospitality industry that the July stimulus package would lift the pressure on those who work in the industry. Unfortunately, the Government has dashed those hopes. Another flaw in the Government's plan is that it only runs from October to April. This means that school-age children are excluded, as they take their holidays during the summer.

Given the new normal, we understand that we need to stimulate the tourism industry on this island to generate as much return to the sector and to our people as possible. We need a targeted, co-ordinated and comprehensive strategy to stimulate tourism and safely generate movement across the whole of our Thirty-two Counties. We need to work with local tourism promotion agencies across Ireland so they can co-ordinate in order to promote our tourism offering better and more effectively. We need to see posters promoting the Ring of Kerry in Belfast and posters promoting Titanic Belfast in Killarney. At such a crucial time, the message in our marketing cannot be confused and we cannot run in competition with one another. This is really vital given the economic reality out there. I accept that there will always be a degree of competition, which is fair enough. We have already heard some colleagues getting their speak in for their own areas this morning. I am sure we will hear much more of that. We need to work to show leadership to ensure those charged with promoting our fantastic tourism assets and tourism offering understand they cannot be too aggressively in competition with one another.They need to harmonise their plans to maximise economic outcomes for the sectors and for communities. If we do that, it will naturally make the case for viable, sustainable, better connected and more modern transportation links across our country. There is a compelling case for that, not least within the context of tourism. For all of the reasons that have been outlined by other Members, sometimes we put an understandable focus on our international marketing strategies, and that is fair enough - I am for that because it is so important - but if this crisis has shown us one thing, it is that we cannot take our eye off the ball in stimulating tourism indigenously and showcasing to our own people the offer we have here. We will have other opportunities to talk about international travel and what is happening at our airports, and I do not intend to go down that road in this contribution, but for the foreseeable future we are asking people not to travel internationally. There is a duty upon us, therefore, to stimulate that movement to improve our tourism offer and infrastructure throughout the island. I believe, and I know many, if not all, colleagues agree with me, that Ireland works best when we work together. There is nowhere that is shown greater than in the way we market and promote ourselves internationally. We market ourselves to the rest of the world as one positive, brilliant tourist destination, and that is how we have to market ourselves going forward.

The North-South Ministerial Council meets this Friday. I do not know if the Minister will be in attendance. I hope she will be, but if not, there will be sectoral and other opportunities for her to meet with her counterpart in the North. I ask that she would take that on as a matter of urgency so that we can begin to implement some of that much-needed co-ordination and promotion, not just at that bigger macro level but down into our local tourism promotion agencies, because I believe that is vital.

One thing we could do, and I offer this as a positive suggestion when the Minister undertakes those conversations, is to look at issues such as the way our international market transfers down to a more localised level. It defies all logic and common sense, economic and otherwise, that the Wild Atlantic Way stops at Derry and does not continue across our stunning north coastline. It is crazy, and I am sure colleagues from Louth will agree, that Ireland's Ancient East stops at Louth and does not go further into Gullion, the playing fields of Cú Chulainn, and does not showcase the fantastic new discoveries at Navan Fort, Emain Macha. I refer to the way we promote St. Patrick's Trail and St. Patrick internationally and how we use St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to market Ireland internationally. How many people across this State know about St. Patrick's Trail or that St. Patrick's burial place is in County Down? How many know the Columbanus coast from where Columbanus monks travelled throughout Europe to re-educate the people and take them out of the Dark Ages? They left from our shores. I refer to the Giant's Causeway and the story of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Those are our stories and it would make a great deal of common sense, as well as economic sense and logic, if we were able to link those up for all of the tourism and economic reasons but for the practical reasons also.

Mar fhocal scoir sula chríochnaím, cuirfidh mé ceist ar an Aire fá chúrsaí Gaeltachta. Would the Minister consider or does she have any plans to promote a dedicated marketing strategy for our Gaeltacht areas? The Gaeltacht is a unique tourism offer, whether that is the language or the stunning views and locations they offer. She will be aware that Údarás na Gaeltachta recently did a rebranding for Gaeltacht areas. Given the historic neglect of those communities, it would be a wonderful message for the Minister to send out in her new role that she will work to develop a dedicated tourism strategy that promotes our Gaeltacht communities as tourist destinations, particularly given the loss of the summer colleges this year. I am aware that mechanisms have been put in place to support mná tí and the colleges, and that is very welcome, but it would be an added benefit to those communities already suffering if we were to encourage people, for the many reasons that exist, to visit those communities and help support them through this crisis.I believe in tourism as an economic driver. We have a fantastic tourism offering right across Ireland and I want to collaborate positively with the Minister, her officials and other colleagues in this House and elsewhere to get it right.

Mark Wall (Labour)
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I join my fellow Members in welcoming the Minister to this House. I wish her very well in her new post. There is no doubt that this is a challenging time for tourism in Ireland and for those employed in the industry. As the recently appointed Labour Party spokesperson on tourism, I look forward to working constructively with the Minister on solutions to the current problems and to develop the massive potential tourism will still have in a post-Covid-19 Ireland.

The Minister will be aware that 2019 saw a record number of international visitors at just under 10 million. The tourism industry, which includes overseas visitor expenditure, domestic market spending and fares paid to Irish carriers, was worth about €9.3 billion to the economy. The tourism and hospitality industry employed more than 265,000 people throughout the country. Tourism accounted for one job in nine in the State. Unfortunately, with the arrival of Covid-19 the industry is on its knees. International visitors composed almost 75% of the market on which Ireland's tourism economy was based. With very few of those 10 million visitors expected in 2020, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation estimates that the cost of Covid-19 to the tourism industry will amount to €6.9 billion.

In the months since the essential shutdown in mid-March, the collapse in Ireland's international visitor numbers has represented a loss to the Irish economy of €27 million per day. The number of workers employed in the industry who have been temporarily laid off is mind-blowing. It is estimated that at least 90% of the 265,000 workers whose jobs are supported by the industry have been temporarily laid off. Research carried out by Fáilte Ireland in the past month is also very worrying. Too many of the 20,000 businesses in the sector, many of which are family-owned or family-run, face the imminent risk of permanent closure, resulting in job losses and a diminished tourism offering for domestic and international visitors. Fáilte Ireland's findings state that up to 90% businesses are closed and almost half have let their employees go at least temporarily. However, three out of five intend to reopen for the summer months at least.

This is the current situation, with which I am sure the Minister is only too familiar. A ninth of our jobs are in this industry. All tourism representatives have called for radical and far-reaching support from the Government, which to date has not met the wide-ranging needs of this industry. Regarding the July stimulus, the Labour Party welcomes the extension of the temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme and the announcement of the major upskilling programme, which could have a major role to play in this industry and the future job security of 265,000 employees.

The staycation voucher, that is, the stay and spend initiative, was a missed opportunity of gigantic proportions. It targeted those still in work, forgetting those who have lost their jobs in this pandemic. The Government seems to have forgotten those who have worked all their lives and are now in receipt of pensions. These are the same people who were asked to cocoon and have been looking forward to getting out. They have been forgotten once again. Is it the policy of this new Government to ignore our older population? The Government also forgot those who cannot work and are on a disability payment. Surely they deserve the voucher or the chance to put some money back in their pockets. With a little imagination, the staycation voucher could have been used to reward our front-line workers for their hard work and dedication on behalf of us all. Unfortunately, as has been said, they too will have to gather receipts, fill in forms and wait for the end of the tax year to get their money back.

I am sure the Minister, like many Members of the Oireachtas, has been contacted in recent weeks by various sectors of the tourism trade. Notwithstanding what she has already said today, I would really appreciate it if the Minister could outline the plans that she and her Department are considering to assist Ireland's coach operators, tour guides, pub owners, bed and breakfasts and many other sectors. These professionals and their families are suffering and are in urgent need of help. Has the Minister considered funding for local authorities to maintain and, more importantly, promote the attractions in their care? She did not mention this today. Perhaps she can confirm what she expects of the tourism recovery task force and how much support the tourism industry can expect from it.

Research consistently shows that visitors highly value the scenery, natural environment and cultural heritage that Ireland has to offer.These are unique to our shores, of course, and when we add the friendliness and hospitality of the Irish people, we end up with a product that can and will ensure a future for this important sector.

The development of nature-based tourism and experiences of a high standard, with minimal environmental impact, presents a market opportunity after the Covid-19 emergency. I am sure we can all agree Ireland could become a world leader in this regard, and with the support of the Government it would be able to offer an unrivalled package. I spent several hours last Saturday at one potential site, the Umeras peatlands experience just outside Monasterevin in County Kildare, which fits the bill in so many ways. This Bord na Móna bog has the potential to become an ecotourism attraction while at the same time being run by a not-for-profit community group. I hope it will get support from the just transition fund. It can offer walking and cycling routes, birdwatching and child play areas, along with peat heritage. This is an overall family experience for both the international and domestic tourism market, as well as a recreational outlet for people living in the local community. I extend an invitation to the Minister to join me and all public representatives in the area to view the potential in this amenity.

There is also massive potential in the Barrow blueway, construction of which has begun in my local area. This 46 km of tourist track can be a game changer for the economic development of the south Kildare and Laois area. There is a golden horde of tourist attractions in this part of County Kildare. For example, the Shackleton Museum development in Athy has the potential to create a worldwide attraction in honour and memory of the Arctic explorer, Mr. Ernest Shackleton. There is also the abbey at Castledermot, the Moone high cross, the Curragh and the National Stud to consider, to name just a few attractions. The towns of Athy, Monasterevin, Rathangan and Allenwood can offer much along the route to make this blueway an exciting project for tourists and recreational potential in Ireland after Covid-19.

I mention some of the magnificent attractions in County Kildare, putting some of them once again on the public record, because it was with massive disappointment that I read a Bord Fáilte brochure at the weekend. I am sure it was an oversight that the only county not highlighted in the State was County Kildare. I am sure, like me, the Minister will raise the matter with Fáilte Ireland and this oversight will be rectified in the near future. Maybe a visit by the Minister could compensate for this oversight and give the short grass and thoroughbred county its rightful place as a tourist destination.

I thank the Minister once again for being with us today. As I said, I look forward to working with her in discussing this very important sector of the economy. Most important, I look forward to the assistance, financial and otherwise, that the Government must put in place in the quickest possible time to protect jobs in this industry. It is very important to protect the name that Ireland has as a holiday and tourism destination that has been built by so many over such a long period.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Before calling the next speaker I should mention that many Senators are looking to contribute but not all will be able to do so unless they share time with party colleagues. The next speaker, the leader of the Green Party group, is sharing time with Senator Vincent P. Martin. They are taking four minutes apiece. We have the rotas of speakers from the different parties to be called in order, but if they all take six minutes, party colleagues will not have time to contribute. If speakers wish to share time with other people on the list, they must indicate to me that they are willing to share time. I am just informing Senators as the Minister must, as agreed in the Order of Business, speak at 12.22 p.m., with statements to conclude at 12.30 p.m. I want to ensure everybody can get an opportunity to speak.

Pauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Vincent P. Martin.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Pauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I heartily congratulate the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. It is great to have her here as we sit in the Dáil Chamber.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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May I interrupt? This room is designed to have great acoustics, so although Members are whispering, not only can the speaker hear those whispers but everybody else can do so as well. We changed the rules about using mobile phones in the Chamber so that Members can send texts. Perhaps they can communicate by doing that. I thank the Members. I apologise to Senator O'Reilly.

Pauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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That is all right. I will start again. I offer hearty congratulations to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. I know she will do a fantastic job and she has all the experience and passion required for this role.Tourism is where culture, economy and mobility come together, hopefully not to collide but to enhance each other.

I will begin with the economy. My constituency of Galway West is good example, which I will use today. We are completely reliant on tourism. Having spoken to the Galway Chamber, the expected occupancy rate for hotels in Galway is between 11% and 14% for the off season. Many of the measures outlined today in the stay and spend, employment wage support scheme and the restart grant are really welcome. I would love to hear the Government is open-minded in regard to seeing that it is working and looking at tax, including VAT, in time.

When I was a councillor, the council spent a great deal of time trying to think of innovative ways to support tourism throughout the seasons because we were so reliant on it, such as ensuring there were comedy festivals during the off-peak season to encourage people to visit. Those festivals will not go ahead to the same extent, which is why we so desperately need the support.

I will take the opportunity to mention ecotourism. The programme for Government and the commitments around greenways and fast rail will all enhance the sector. It is not only about investing in the sector, as was the case before Covid, but it is also about finding new opportunities, such as adventure tourism, which I will engage in with my family in Galway and Mayo. I encourage others to think creatively about their own holidays here. These sectors need support now to get off the floor. It is not only about restarting but also starting new, innovative, businesses. Now is the time to look at the completion of the Connemara greenway, the urban greenway, the Salthill Barna greenway and to invest in adventure tourism to get it off the ground. I am delighted to see the islands are now open for business. They have lost much business and need further support because they opened so much later than other parts of Ireland.

On culture, the Minister announced the effective restarting of Galway 2020. I have spoken about this a lot. If Galway 2020 is extended, it is important we be afforded its full accounts. That is something I have constantly asked for. There is a commitment to have more local acts. I would like to see the list for that as it was not forthcoming at last week's council meeting. We need to be assured that other artists who are not involved in Galway 2020 will have their arts grants awarded to them this year and in coming years.

On mobility, I note Iarnród Éireann took into consideration the overcrowding on its services the Friday before last. I was on one of the overcrowded trains where people were sitting and standing in the aisles. When I was on the train again last Friday, there were none of the same issues. That shows that we are taking the issues on board. Many buses are not yet up and running. City Link and Go Bus have not yet restarted which means there is huge pressure on the other operators such as Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann. The Government is doing a good job in ensuring that when these problems arise, we act quickly. Let us do the same for our tourism and our economy and see where the people who have been forgotten in this are and ensure they are not forgotten into the future.

Vincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I also wish the Minister well in her post. Her words here expressed the incredibly challenge faced by the industry.She is also on record as saying we will have to think differently about tourism. I am absolutely convinced we will have to reimagine how we do tourism in this country. My colleague from south Kildare, Senator Wall, has extolled some of the virtues of our county of Kildare but there are so many others, not to engage in repetition. The houses on our beautiful stud farms, shared across the north and south of the county, are splendid pieces of architecture and maybe should be opened to the public. Our canals, which we are so blessed to have throughout our county, north and south, could become central infrastructure showcasing the wonderful gourmet options in the county. As Senator Wall said, we have to reimagine our bogs. I am finalising a number of proposals I have put together. The Minister is a frequent visitor to County Kildare and it is always great to see her there. She will be familiar with some of these features.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator can pick his friends but not his family.

Vincent P Martin (Green Party)
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It is the less likely ones, such as agritourism, that I will shine a light on during Deputy Catherine Martin's Ministry. I will also be talking to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, about this. The amazing limestone in Kildare has a propensity and a wonderful opportunity to lend itself to vine-growing, which, in due course over many years-----

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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Unlike the stony grey soil.

Vincent P Martin (Green Party)
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-----could become, like in England and Wales, a tourism attraction, given our climate, if we use mildew-resistant varieties of vines.

I wish the Minister well. She has a huge task. We hope to see her as frequently as ever before in Kildare and I look forward to working with her as best we can. As other Senators noted, it is very important from an employment point of view. This incredible challenge presents opportunities and it is about how we grasp them. We have to do things totally differently. The Minister's friend and colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in a previous life was very big into cycling tourism, and there is significant potential there too, not just in Kildare but throughout the country.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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It is good to see family relationships in the Seanad. I again congratulate the Senator and his sister. I hope he will mention Maynooth and bring the Minister there too.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing time with whoever needs it. The Leas-Chathaoirleach can work it out because I am using time already.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus tá súil agam go n-éireoidh go breá léi sa portfolio suimiúil atá aici. I wish the Minister well. She has a comprehensive portfolio and will be seeing a bit of me on the tourism side. I play second fiddle to Senator Cassells and have an interest in tourism.

I will cut out all the statistics I had prepared because the House heard them from the Minister, who has the brief. The great success story in this country for the past two decades has been tourism. Every year we have seen increased figures, increased employment, new projects and a great deal of excitement and growth in that area. It is impossible to quantify the added value of that for the country, whether in terms of transport, online sales or foreign direct investment, which is often located here because the investors have previously come here as tourists. I have met more than one person who fits into that category. Another benefit relates to aviation.

Tourism is big business. The Green Party is very interested in renewables, and tourism is renewable and inexhaustible. It is an asset that will never run out because it is based on our natural resources, the beauty of our landscape, our history, our culture, our music and our welcome. The much-hackneyed céad míle fáilte is a significant factor in making Ireland premier in world tourism.Counties such as Kerry and Galway, which have been major leaders in tourism, are now the ones that will be crippled by it, unfortunately. I hope there will be some form of regional examination of how we will deploy funds to help particularly the counties that depend so greatly on tourism. The biggest tragedy I have seen in a long time is the holding of the Galway Races to an empty stand yesterday. At the end of September - I am from Listowel - we will witness the same situation. It is heartbreaking. Covid has changed everything utterly, and there is not much beauty in it.

I welcome the stimulus plan. I will not go through it. I would like to talk about one or two items in particular. I am glad to see that the coach operators will be helped. I would like that knocked on not so much to taxi drivers in the country but to hackney drivers and chauffeurs. We have a number of them operating from the airports, and there is so little business for them. I welcome the stay-and-spend initiative. It has been mocked a small bit. I think it is good. Anyone going out to spend a long weekend with his or her spouse or to bring the family away to a resort for a week in October will get a bit of a bonus out of it. The money will be spent anyway. It will go around.

I give my full praise to the people working in the sector. They are all working hard at compliance. There is an imaginative approach going on. I holidayed abroad: I have just come back from Valentia Island, which, as the Minister will be aware, is the most beautiful, undeveloped place in Ireland. Members really should go there. I will not belabour the point. The people there are working so hard. There are small restaurants and hotels. They are trying their best to comply, with big smiles on their faces. Everybody is pulling together. If I have one gripe, it is against the politicians and protest parties, and they are in a minority, that seem to be getting pleasure out of picking holes in whatever is going on with the Government's dealing with Covid. That is not going down well with the people. I can tell them that straight away.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I will avoid the formalities but I wish the Minister well in her Department.

By now I am sure the Minister is well aware of a proposal by Shannon Group to close the tourist attraction facilities at Bunratty Folk Park together with King John's Castle at the end of August, a decision that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Of course, the decision is dressed up by the management and the board as a response to the fallout from Covid. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a bad decision and will further undermine the effort to rebuild business when the pandemic has passed. Viable domestic market business at Hallowe'en and Christmas will be lost and will be unlikely to return. The Minister's intervention is needed to persuade the board and management of the need to keep the attractions open. I know that there have been communications between the board and management and various Departments and that a request has been made for approximately €4 million. I appeal to the Minister and her Government colleagues to give very serious consideration to this request because it will help to protect this vital business.

The July statement brought a welcome injection of cash into the economy, and the tourism sector, as the Minister said, badly needs that. Can the Minister confirm that the bed and breakfast businesses that will avail of the restart grant do not necessarily have to be affiliated to Bord Fáilte? Can she also confirm that a business such as that run by Sean Kilkenny, a jarvey and carriage ride service based in Dromoland Castle, will be able to avail of the new enhanced restart grant, even though the business does not pay rates to the local authority? There is a business continuity aspect to this. As the Minister indicated, she is prepared to provide funds to the coach sector. Coach businesses are really under pressure, but so too is a business such as Mr. Kilkenny's. The Covid pandemic payment to the individuals concerned is not enough to sustain the horse business. Horses have to be fed over the winter. Up to 40 horses cannot be fed on a €350 pandemic unemployment payment.

Mary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I am sharing time with Senator D'Arcy. The Minister is very welcome. I will also forgo the formalities for the sake of time.I sat on South Dublin County Council's tourism policy committee. I am amazed by how much tourism can bring to an area in terms of investment and employment and the potential it possesses. I congratulate the Minister on what has been put together in the July stimulus package and other measures. They are extraordinary and welcome, so I will not go into their details.

The Minister referred to the tourism task force. I ask that she exert her influence in obliging the task force to consider smaller packages of tourism offerings that have not been put together heretofore or any alternative that could equip local authorities with additional funds for the promotion of particular tourism offerings. In my constituency of Dublin South-Central, there is a wealth of historic sites spanning several centuries. Repackaging tourism offerings like Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, which my colleague mentioned, heightens awareness, improves an area's reputation, creates stories and increases capital investment and employment.

Dublin South-Central holds in its heart a unique history and heritage for any tourist from inside or outside the Pale. Indeed, the remnants of the Pale itself are within the constituency. One can ramble through the Liberties, which is one of Dublin's most historic neighbourhoods and is associated with the River Poddle. There are market traders and local family-owned businesses, including those in the Iveagh Markets, which are to be further developed. The area is home to the Guinness brewery, whiskey distillers on James's Street and historic textile industries, including Weavers Hall. One can visit John's Lane Church and view the 12 statues in the tower niches, the work of sculptor James Pearse, who was the father of Patrick and William Pearse. One can visit St. Catherine's Church on Thomas Street, the site of the execution of Robert Emmet, and remember that our country has taken its place among the nations of the world. One can visit St. James's Church, the historic start of the Camino de Santiago. One can ramble to Kilmainham and take in the Royal Hospital, the Museum of Modern Art and its beautiful grounds, and wander through the War Memorial Gardens and Kilmainham Gaol or visit Richmond Barracks in Inchicore or Drimnagh Castle, the only remaining castle with a flooded moat in Ireland.

There is a wealth of tourism offerings in Dublin South-Central. I ask that the Minister consider looking at this suggestion as part of the tourism task force or equipping local authorities to put such smaller offerings in place, particularly in urban settings to put more life, business and employment into them.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the Minister and wish her the best of luck in her important portfolio. Tourism equates to approximately 10% of our GDP, but it is more than just that. A large number of people beyond that 10% are employed in the sector. There is a great deal of seasonal and part-time work. As I have stated each time I have spoken about how we can get out of this crisis, our success will be measured in how many people return to work.

I do not want to mention every town, village and parish in my constituency, but I will mention a project that I have been pursuing for some time. As deputy leader of the Green Party, I am sure the Minister will appreciate it. It is the reconfiguration of the old N11, which was the road all the way up to Dublin city centre. Now that there is the M11, we have a large carriageway of 6 m and 8 m in width, allowing two cars to pass, that has been downgraded. Although roads have been reconfigured on occasion, none has been reconfigured with a plan to travel a great distance and link up clusters of projects and areas.

I met the Minister's predecessor, former Deputy Ross, about this project when he was in the tourism role. It would link south County Dublin along the old N11 all the way down to Rosslare. A wide portion of the road can be reconfigured through some engineering work in a safe manner. I am not just talking about having a line on the road with a cyclist painted on it. Rather, this route would be detached properly and safely from the vehicle carriageway so that families could travel from south County Dublin to Rosslare and there connect to the Rosslare greenway, which in turn connects to the New Ross greenway, which has started work in recent weeks.The New Ross greenway will connect to the Waterford-Dungarvan greenway. Suddenly, a project that started in south County Dublin, which benefits Senator Seery Kearney’s constituency, would go all the way through Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford, to the far side of Dungarvan and entering County Cork. The project would connect all those towns and villages that had been suffering because the motorway is in place. In a village such as Inch, there was a vibrant pub with 14 or 15 rooms, called Toss Byrne's, but it is now closed. Given that these cyclists and tourists would be able to use the greenway all the way down, connecting south County Dublin with Cork, there would now be a project on a national scale.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I warmly welcome the Minister. We worked closely together for many years on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I am a native of Kildare and I have never heard more name checks of that county by a man from Monaghan. It always amazes me in the House when we keep referring to our constituencies. Most people who come in here seem not to want to be here. They talk about their constituencies but we do not have Dáil constituencies. We are national politicians and Senators. Sometimes it is a pity that we lose that. Let us be happy here. There is a great expression about being happy in one's station in life. I can say as a Senator, having served one term and hoping to serve a few more, that I am happy to stay in Seanad Éireann because I find it meaningful, engaging and important work. Perhaps we need fewer references to constituencies because the constituents have made their choices and, hopefully, they will have those people in those place for the next four and a half years.

As people have been talking about where they are going on holidays, I point out that I am going to the Minister's beloved Carrickmacross in County Monaghan for one week and to Renvyle in Galway for another because I have met many of the people involved in the harbour there. The lovely Renvyle harbour, as many Senators will know, was left in a terrible state and something needs to be done about that, but that is for another day.

I raise three issues with the Minister's contribution. I welcome the restart grant for bed and breakfast operators but we need much more clarity for the sector. Is the grant for bed and breakfast operators that are registered with Bord Fáilte or not? I tabled a Commencement matter last year with the then Minister of State with responsibility for local government, Deputy Phelan, and one will see in the Official Record of the House that we were told there was an issue with rates due. Some bed and breakfast operators have been told they have to pay rates while others have been told they do not. I do not believe that any of them should be paying rates, but especially small ones in a certain category. I want the Minister to examine that because we need absolute clarity. Are we talking about rate waivers for bed and breakfast operators? Some are not paying but some are. There are inconsistencies among the 31 local authorities in respect of rates for the bed and breakfast sector. We know that from the Minister's responses and from other correspondence that I will forward to her today. I ask her to consider that area.

Another matter raised earlier by one or two Senators relates to the partnership with local government. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, of which I was a member for many years, was paying a levy for Dublin tourism. All three local authorities were paying into a fund. Why are local authorities paying into some bigger or greater agency for the promotion of tourism? How can we develop local tourism in conjunction with the 31 local authorities, their members and their executives? It is a very diverse country, as people have discussed in respect of the areas where they reside or that they know. I ask the Minister to give a special focus and attention to the role of the local authorities and how they can engage in that regard.

We need to look again at our diaspora, our contacts throughout the world. While there may be a different mechanism for promoting tourism, we need to tap in to that. It is a really important sector. We are an island people, and what a great opportunity we could have to promote tourism by having a national and international festival of the sea. We saw what happened with the Volvo Ocean Race and various other international racing clubs. We know that at harbours throughout the island of Ireland we have enormous synergy potential for promoting an international festival of the sea, celebrating the fact that we are an island, surrounded by water and the sea.There is great potential for local, national and international tourism if we work with the people involved in this sector. I wish the Minister well. I have no doubt she is going to give it her all. She has done so in everything she has ever been involved with in politics. I have seen that at first hand. We are going to be in for exciting times under her Ministry and I wish her the best of luck.

Erin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing time with Senator Blaney. I thank the Minister and welcome her to the House. I will leave all the statistics and formalities. The Minister's is the single most important Department for us as a country to express who we are and who we wish to become. I look forward to the Minister's term of office and the progress she will make in ensuring a diverse, sustainable and inclusive tourism sector.

I want to raise a few passion projects of mine. Senator Boyhan might not like this but I will speak of what I know. I hope the Minister might take a few things into consideration when looking at the next stage of our tourism and cultural economy. The North-South aspect of our tourism sector needs to be looked at. We have significant commonalities across the regions of Dundalk and Newry, all along our east coast and all around our country. By working together these regions will get stronger and benefit from a cross-Border emphasis. We need to look more closely at building the Narrow Water bridge. We must look to the Cooleys, Mournes and Slieve Gullion as a marketable project and start thinking of Carlingford Lough as one area to maximise the great potential we have in north Louth and south Down. This concept should be replicated right across the Border region.

One positive aspect of our lockdown was that people exploring within their 2 km and 5 km radius saw for the first time all that they have at their back doors. No matter where we come from on this island we have a wealth of nature, culture, folklore and history at our fingertips. It costs us nothing to stop and listen to the water in the streams or the birds or even to read the plaques on the buildings that mark a bit of history. I would like to see the Department coming up with an initiative for getting to know one's own area, making it a marketing ambition for a local area to be able to highlight what it has. This would be a nationwide project to encourage all to embrace what our localities have, a history that is untapped and unappreciated in many instances. That history can be developed and mapped so we can have a database and a proper roadmap to our history and culture.

For example, I refer to the Battle of Faughart, also known as the Battle of Dundalk, in 1318. It was very significant battle in the Irish Bruce wars and it ended, for the time being, King Robert the Bruce's attempt to open a second front against the English in the battle to win Scottish independence. This massively significant part of Irish-Scottish history is sitting there waiting to be explored. Another example is how the Knights Templar set up in the Cooley Peninsula, with Templetown named after them. They provided safe passage for pilgrims coming from Ulster and leaving at Kilwirra church in Templetown to complete the Camino in Spain. People can get their Camino passports stamped in the oldest church in the Archdiocese of Armagh, in St. James's church in Grange, County Louth.

We have the most beautiful biodiversity in this country. We should be examining the possibility of biodiversity tourism. I think of the humble and magical hawthorn tree that supports 200 different insect species and our unique heathers in the Cooley Mountains. This is all untapped opportunity for healthy, positive, sustainable tourism.

Photo of Niall BlaneyNiall Blaney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for joining us and giving us a most informative and open statement. With her collective portfolios she is going to play a vital role in the development of rural Ireland. A couple of the issues I was going to raise today have already been raised. Senators McGreehan and Ó Donnghaile talked about the cross-Border element of tourism. It is a vital element which we need to develop. In conjunction with the new unit being set up in the Taoiseach's office, it is imperative that the Minister, Deputy Martin's Department works in that context. I, too, believe that the Ireland's Ancient East brand should be developed as far as Belfast. The Wild Atlantic Way should also be developed as far as Belfast at the other side. As somebody who lives in the north of the North, I do not think anywhere in the world has the diversity of beauty of the coastline from Belfast around to Belmullet and beyond, with the different beauty spots right along it.Most of it is completely untapped. There is massive potential for tourism development.

Senator Boyhan mentioned our coastline in relation to sailing. There is massive potential for tourism along our coastline. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on tourism, which is a vital indigenous sector, by the Government in recent weeks, including in the July stimulus. Now that there is going to be a review of the national development plan, Ireland 2040, it is imperative that there be a much greater focus on tourism. I propose that the Minister consider the introduction of a national marina plan. It is very well to talk about sailing in Ireland but there are not enough marinas around the coastline. Wherever marinas have been built there is great potential for further infrastructural development, such as hotels and restaurants, and for creating jobs right around the coastline. Sailing is also a green initiative. It has great potential and should be included in the development plan.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I call Senator Conway who is sharing time with Senator Dolan. They each have three minutes.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I also congratulate the Minister on her appointment. The consideration and respect she has shown me in the House over recent years reflects her commitment to equality. Having someone with that belief sitting at Cabinet can only improve equality of opportunity and access for all our citizens. I wish her well.

I come from a part of the country, County Clare, that heavily relies on tourism. The last recession was very difficult and challenging but the industry that started kicking us back to economic recovery was tourism. The Gathering initiative in 2013, which was promoted by the Government under the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, was seen by many as the starting point of the recovery of tourism here. That was followed by the masterstroke in international marketing that is the Wild Atlantic Way. It has the potential to compete with the Camino as being the world's greatest walk. That needs to be our ambition.

Although the coming recession will be much worse than anything we have experienced, I believe that tourism will, yet again, kick us into economic recovery. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on tourism for their livelihoods. In County Clare in particular, thousands rely on tourism and thousands are struggling now because of the lack of tourism. I encourage everyone here to consider visiting County Clare on their holidays this year. We have had the Tánaiste on his holidays for a weekend in Clare already, as well as many others, but we need a lot more. We need a lot of capital investment in walkways, greenways and public transport so people can get around our county and are able to visit all parts with regularity, in comfort and with choice. We need capital investment in our tourist attractions. The Cliffs of Moher visitor experience in County Clare is a gold-plated tourism facility. I hope the Minister will have an opportunity to visit it during her period in office. It needs further investment. There is a coastal walk that probably needs €20 million or €30 million to bring it up to the type of standard we need. We also have a lot of silver-plated attractions with regional importance, such as Seaworld in Lahinch and Waterworld in Kilkee.

We can make tourism an all-year round industry. That is why it is critical that Shannon Heritage keeps its facilities open throughout the year.Therefore, when people come to County Clare on holidays they will have a choice of activities and facilities to visit and enjoy.

Aisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the Minister. She has a very broad and interesting portfolio covering arts, tourism, media and culture. I will speak to what I know, which Ireland's Hidden Heartlands in the middle of Ireland. Is it not great that this opportunity has been brought about for us to rediscover what is on our doorstep? That is what many families are doing now when booking their holidays, particularly in August which is the month in which many people are taking a few days, a week or longer off. Regarding the hidden heartlands, between Roscommon and east Galway one can travel down the River Suck or the Shannon River on the opposite side. There are great lakes and it is a great way to enjoy blueways and water sports while also connecting with heritage.

I like one of the proposals here on how to promote the local area and developing some type of strategy on that, perhaps how we do visitGalway.ie, visitBallinasloe.ieand the equivalent for all the other counties. How can we ensure we are getting the most benefit from such websites? I had the opportunity, and I thank the Fine Gael team, to promote Roscommon and Galway. I got to promote the activities in my home town of Ballinasloe and hire a boat, meander down the River Suck and show what it was like to go into the marina in Ballinasloe. It is a great adventure. It is something I am looking forward to and am going to plan for a couple of weeks hence. Along with that were activities such as horse riding in Creagh Equestrian centre and doing hikes and trails on the Beara-Breifne Way which goes all the way from Cork through the centre of Ireland to Leitrim and Longford. There are great ways to explore.

What I really enjoy is the way families and children can connect with history through everything in our heritage. For example, the Battle of Aughrim was directly outside Ballinasloe. Other battles have been mentioned here, but how do we connect and build this heritage, culture and interest in our past, which shapes everything we do today? I believe there are great opportunities to do that. Other cultural items worth pointing out include the National Famine Museum in Strokestown, in which there was great investment by Discover Ireland and Bord Fáilte last year, Clonalis House in Castlerea and the lovely Roscommon Castle and park. I am passionate about the greenway and seeing it go from Athlone to Galway. That is a priority for Transport Infrastructure Ireland. Perhaps what will come out of this situation is the importance of developing that type of infrastructure and that type of tourism. We need to be able to accommodate short stays in Ireland as well as potentially longer stays of a week or two weeks.

Finally, can the Minister say what supports are being provided for travel agents? Obviously, that industry is gone.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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It is nice to see the Minister, and I congratulate her. I had the pleasure of working with her on the education committee in the last Dáil and she was a genuinely progressive and radical voice. I hope she will be a radical Minister. The good news is that I am going to give her three opportunities to be radical over the next five minutes.

The first opportunity is in respect of the Shannon Group, which has been mentioned already. It is an absolute disgrace that the Shannon Group has decided to shut down King John's Castle and Bunratty Castle from the end of August. It has caused absolute fury. The fact that it has also refused to open Craggaunowen and Knappogue Castle is equally appalling. The Minister has established a stay and spend initiative and my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, rightly criticised aspects of that initiative. How will that stay and spend initiative work in a city and counties where key sites have been closed down? It makes no sense. This is not just about the 350 people employed by Shannon Heritage, but the thousands of other jobs that depend on these sites being open. This is the equivalent of taking Limerick off the tourism pitch at half time. We will not stand for it. In fact, the Shannon Group has achieved something truly unique - it has managed to unify every political party across the mid-west on this issue. We cannot all be wrong.

The Minister has the power to intervene and to insist on ring-fenced funding to keep King John's Castle and Bunratty Castle open and to open the other sites. I ask her to give a firm commitment today that she will do that. The people of Limerick and Clare will not settle for anything less. I also ask her to prepare the ground to move those sites to the Office of Public Works. It is a long time since we lost faith and confidence in the Shannon Group management. This is an opportunity for the Minister to be radical. The next opportunity is Moore Street. I will again ask the Minister a direct question: what will she do to save and develop Moore Street as a national monument and cultural quarter? The previous Government abandoned it. That was a disgrace. I encourage all Members to go to Moore Street and see the state in which it has been left. A national battleground in 1916, it has been abandoned by both conservative parties. I have faith in the Minister that she will address the issue. Will she meet stakeholder groups and work with us to repair the long-standing wrongs in this regard?

I will address a matter that I suspect others will not during this debate. It is all very well talking about how quickly we can get back to normal, but there is a dark underbelly to our tourism industry of poor pay and conditions. The Minister does not have to take my word for it - I will refer her to the word of Dr. Deirdre Curran, an NUI Galway lecturer who has done extensive research in this area as recently as the end of last year. I will cite some statistics. Of workers surveyed, 64% have suffered psychological abuse and 76% have suffered verbal abuse. We are discussing what is a largely female workforce. Some 52% of workers receive no work breaks, 16% receive no regular wage slips and 43% receive no written statements of terms and conditions. This is the reality of the tourism industry that we do not hear about. It needs to be addressed.

One way the Minister could help would be by supporting Sinn Féin's tips Bill, which is alive and well and will be returning to the Dáil. The Minister was good enough to support it in the previous Dáil. It is a simple Bill to guarantee that people who work for their tips can get them. Unbelievably, Fine Gael opposed it and used a cynical money message when it knew it did not have the votes to stop the Bill from becoming law. I ask that the Minister be radical and work with us on defending front-line workers in our tourism industry.

The last point I wish to make does not relate entirely to the Minister's role, but there is a significant imbalance between east and west. Part of that imbalance operates through our airports. That we have airports under the control of the DAA on the one hand and, on the other, Shannon is a failed independent airport - there is also Ireland West Airport Knock- makes no sense. That is why nine out of ten flights leave from the east coast. If we are to be serious about regional balance, we need the Government to address this issue. I urge the Minister to do what the workers at Shannon Airport have urged her to do and what Sinn Féin has always said should be done. We are the only party on record as opposing this failed model of independence in Shannon. One group needs to manage all of Ireland's airports in order that we can implement proper regional balance and ensure that, when flights are granted in Dublin, it is insisted upon that the airlines put some of them across to the west.

I wish the Minister well. I cannot emphasise enough that, if there is no action on the Shannon Group situation, there will be fury. Please start as a radical Minister and intervene. Save our heritage sites and our jobs.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I call Senator O'Loughlin, who is sharing time with Senators Casey and Murphy. They have two minutes each. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate the Minister sincerely. I worked closely with her over the past four years on the education committee and in the women's caucus. She is a politician of deep conviction and a woman who is passionate about her county. I have no doubt that those will be matched by ambition and vision for the Department she now leads.

I understand that the Minister might be visiting Kildare in a professional capacity in late August to open the new centre at the Irish National Stud. While she is there, I invite her to take a little tour of the county I know and love so well. I would bring her to the Curragh to see Donnelly's Hollow and to make my first request of her, which would be that we would make the Curragh a national heritage park. This is warranted and important. On the issue of transport, there is a stop at the Curragh for the train service. That could be utilised for both tourism and those who come to racing. Kildare is particularly well known for racing events and has many fabulous places we could bring tourists to, which I will highlight. It may surprise some to learn that 600 enterprises in Kildare are dependent on tourism and that tourism in Kildare contributes €127 million directly to the economy. Kildare is also associated with St. Brigid, who was the first feminist in Ireland and who is the patron saint of creativity. I have no doubt she will inspire the Minister.

Finally, I turn to the issue of our waterways. There are two canals in Kildare. I had the opportunity to be on a barge last week. There are only 28 serviced berths in the country. We need to explore our waterways and have a greater number of permanent berths.

I look forward to talking to the Minister about these issues at greater length on another occasion. I ask her to keep on the table a further cut to VAT in budget 2021.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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I too congratulate the Minister on her appointment. The sector has never faced a crisis of such magnitude, and we have been through a number of them. In the Minister's words, the devastation being experienced in the sector is unprecedented. I welcome the July stimulus package, which addresses some of the short-term measures required to keep our doors open in the coming off-season, but the sector believes that the rhetoric from the Government is just rhetoric and that the sector is not a primary focus of the Government moving forward. We will have an opportunity in the forthcoming national economic plan to address the concerns of the industry if we work together.

I will focus on two issues, the first of which relates to VAT. We need an open and frank discussion on VAT. A reduction in the rate is needed to secure a viable, sustainable and competitive future for the industry, to level the playing fields with our European competitors and to respond to the move last week by the UK Government to reduce its rate for the sector to 5%. The UK is our largest foreign market. We were already losing a significant portion of that trade because of Brexit and the decrease in the value of sterling.

The other issue relates to opening our airports and ferry ports to mandatory testing to give security to the people. Instant testing is being developed. We did it 19 years ago in the case of foot and mouth disease, when we washed every wheel of every vehicle that came into the country and everyone had to step in a disinfectant. If there is a will, there is a way, and we can open our ferry ports and airports safely through carrying out mandatory testing.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I ask the Senator to conclude.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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Wicklow is open for business. If anyone would like to come to Wicklow, given that everyone else mentioned their counties, they are all welcome to the garden county.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I can see I am loved by my colleagues. I sincerely wish the Minister well. I served in Dáil Éireann with her and chaired many a debate, and I found her very co-operative and fair. I think she will do a good job. I have known her brother very well for years but the Minister is catching up in terms of his wit and company. I wish her the very best of luck.

As our time is limited, I will not go through the whole stimulus package, which contains a great deal. I return to the area of entertainers, many of whom are sole traders and are not rate payers. We often talk about sound engineers, roadies and so on, who will find that the package is limited for them. Some of them are hitting serious economic times. As I noted last week, whenever this pandemic comes to an end, those people will be at the very end of the queue because it will be a long time before we get back to concerts, arts centres and so forth. It will not happen soon, because we are talking about larger numbers.

Broadband will be very important, particularly for rural Ireland. The Minister has a specific interest in that.

Finally, I invite the Minister to Roscommon and Galway. I will bring her to all the sites free of charge and she can have that holiday for free.I am declaring it open. We will let the Minister enjoy the beautiful countryside and sceneries in Strokestown, Ballinasloe, Boyle, Carrick-on-Shannon, Tulsk and everywhere else. I wish the Minister well.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am breathless. I call Senator Garvey. I apologise to Members who did not get in. We must conclude this part of the debate at 12.22 p.m.

Róisín Garvey (Green Party)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus déanaim comhghairdeas léi as ucht a post nua. Is dúshlán an-mhór é di. Má tá aon duine in ann an jab a dhéanamh, is í an tAire, an Teachta Martin, an duine sin. Nár laga Dia í agus í ag déanamh a dícheall an dúshlán seo a chomhlíonadh go croíúil agus go macánta. I officially invite the Minister to the Banner County. She can come as soon as she can when she is on her holidays. Senator Boyhan made a good point that while we are national politicians, we are from where we are from and we cannot help but care about our counties as well.

I will not waste any more time as the Minister knows about the devastating effects of Covid on tourism. She was aware before she came into the House about that, particularly concerning owner-occupied businesses. The July stimulus is good and will bring some hope.

I want to raise the issue, however, of seasonal workers. For many in the tourism industry, it is not a full-time job. What has happened in many places for thousands of people is that they were on the books in February but were not brought on the books in March because of Covid. As a result, they were not entitled to the Covid payment. Many of these workers, thousands of them, would have been working in the industry and in particular locations for 20 or 30 years. They were the friendly face of Ireland which tourists met. However, they fell out of this category for Covid payments. Will the Minister examine this?

I want to draw the Minister's attention to visitor attractions and music venues. Social distancing has been crippling for music venues and visitor attractions. I came up on the train this morning with a mask on and with hand sanitiser. I did not always have to be 2 m apart from people, however.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Senator's time is up.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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She will have to conclude.

Róisín Garvey (Green Party)
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I thought I had five minutes.

Can we examine these measures to see if they can be changed for music venues? We have musicians who are seriously struggling as well.

I have requested that the Minister, the Minister for transport and the Minister of State with responsibility for heritage, all of whom happen to be in the Green Party, will come together to look at the devastation that we are dealing with in the Shannon region as a result of the Shannon Group and what is happening in the area. There were issues there long before Covid. It is important that the Ministers work together on this.

We have one kind of tourism on which we have to focus in Ireland. All tourism must be ecotourism from now on. We are facing a climate and biodiversity challenge. Everybody comes to Ireland expecting real green tourism, not just greenwashing.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I apologise to Members for the rushed nature of this debate. We must conclude at 12.22 p.m. and the Minister has eight minutes to conclude by 12.30 p.m. I apologise to those Members who could not get into the debate.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I thank Seanad Members for allowing me an opportunity to speak today on such an important matter. I thank them for their contributions. I will follow up on as many of the questions raised as is possible. If I do not manage to get back to every query, I will ask my officials to write to the Senators.

As I said earlier, the tourism industry in its entirety has been decimated by the Covid-19 crisis. The sector will take the longest to recover. Senator Keogan raised that issue. I am aware of the difficulties being experienced by Ireland's tourism industry. I am mindful of its complete loss of earnings, jobs and businesses. I assure Senator Keogan that I am taking this matter seriously.

Senator Cassells asked about ancillary job losses. Approximately 260,000 people are employed in the tourism and hospitality sector. I do not have exact figures on the indirect impact of their spending on other jobs. I certainly know that many regions are very dependent on that income.

As sports Minister, I understand the desire for larger crowds and attendances at GAA and other grounds. The Government must put health first with everything that comes with Covid-19. If we are ever to reach a point where we can open everything up, then we must act with caution at all times. We have to adhere to the current public advice.If it is at all possible to mitigate the risk to life with bigger crowds, then I am sure NPHET will consider that. My Department will assist NPHET and co-operate with it in that process.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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What about Aer Lingus?

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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Senators Gavan, Dooley, Garvey and Conway raised the Shannon Heritage issue. Like many tourism attractions, I am aware of the massive challenges it faces. As it is a subsidiary of Shannon Airport, it is under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I will work closely with him on this. He is looking at financial issues with Shannon Airport and will bring recommendations to the Government with regard to these in due course.

Fáilte Ireland will be assisting tourism attractions through the adaptation grant. I am aware of the impact this is having on the entire region, as well as how critical it is to it. I will do what I can under my remit to assist with the reopening of these sites.

Senator McGreehan spoke about beautiful Louth. She was like an advertisement for the county. I am a frequent visitor to Slieve Gullion and Carlingford Lough. I will be there in the next few weeks, as I often am with my family and friends. Border tourism has already been threatened by Brexit and was a focus for Fáilte Ireland before the Covid crisis. I grew up on the Border. I will be attending the North-South Ministerial Council and liaising with the Minister, Diane Dodds. I will be collaborating and co-ordinating every which way possible. It is a priority. Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland are working on joining up initiatives such as the Causeway Coast and the Wild Atlantic Way. I would like to see much more of this.

On the Gaeltacht areas to which Senator Ó Donnghaile referred, I have a grá for Gaeilge myself. Last week, I provided €8 million in capital funding to Údarás na Gaeltachta. I want see factories and buildings repurposed and supported to encourage people to stay and work in Gaeltacht areas, helping to build them up. I provided funding under arts to Ealaín na Gaeltachta. I will do whatever I can to support our beautiful language, our native tongue and the Gaeltacht areas.

Many Senators brought up the issue of VAT and the voucher scheme. We saw stay-and-spend as the quickest way to get a scheme up and running. It is also more efficient and less costly for a business to administer compared with a redeeming voucher. It has a wide application with up to 2.8 million people being able to avail of it. It is about encouraging demand. The reason that specific timeframe from October to April was targeted was because it is off-season. When I engaged with stakeholders, they said that was when they really needed the support to get them through Christmas.

The scheme will not be administratively cumbersome. Some Senators referred to the filing of paperwork involved in the scheme. It will actually be operated through a downloadable Revenue mobile phone app. We envisage one goes to a restaurant or a hotel and one takes a photograph there and then. That is how easy it will be. It was about making it as easy as possible to support our restaurants, coffee shops and hotels.

At the level of individual taxpayer, the relief on accommodation and food, including soft drinks but not alcohol, it is a minimum spend of €25 per person per time with a maximum spend limit of €625 over the lifetime of the scheme. The taxpayer will take the photograph. One will get 20% of the voucher costs through the income tax maximum credit of €125 per person. The tax credit may be set against a claimant's USC liability where he or she does not have a sufficient income tax liability to fully absorb the tax credit in the year of assessment.Senators Garvey and Conway spoke of the lights of the Banner county. I can let Senator Garvey know that my family will be going there in the next few weeks. We will go to Clare and are looking forward to it. We intend to spend a lot of time there, we are walkers and my husband and I look forward to exploring the Burren with our three children. I look forward to meeting the Senator in person when I am there.

Róisín Garvey (Green Party)
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I know the best spots.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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Senators Martin, Wall and O'Loughlin mentioned Kildare. With family there, I am a frequent visitor to Kildare. I have friends and colleagues there also. I enjoyed working closely with Senator O'Loughlin and I look forward to a tour of Kildare. On the bogs and stud farms and if they should be opened up, Fáilte Ireland has a tourism capital fund that has developed many similar attractions, for example, in the Lough Boora park in the midlands.

Senator Boyhan commented on Carrickmacross. I am happy to meet him for a coffee and recommend the sights and thrills of my native home town. Senator Blaney referred to North-South tourism. The national maritime park is part of the brief of my colleague in transport, but I will bring that to his attention.

Senators Conway, Dolan, O'Reilly and D'Arcy referred to greenways. An investment of €23 million has been allocated this year for tourism-focused greenways. Senator D'Arcy spoke on a specific project. Anything we can do to encourage cycling and to make cycling safe in this regard, is of course a priority for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Senator Wall referred to coach tourism. I have asked Fáilte Ireland to develop a business continuity scheme to help these businesses through this difficult period and €10 million has been made available under the July stimulus programme for this purpose.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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This Minister is on added time so I ask her to conclude within the next minute please.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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With regard to VAT, all options were considered for the July stimulus package but we were trying to focus really quickly - we had three weeks - on the jobs and getting people safe and secure, such as with the wage subsidy scheme, and making sure that seasonal workers were brought in. We did that. All options were considered with regard to VAT and all options will be reviewed as we come into the October package.

If there are any other issues I have not addressed here, as a lot were raised, my officials will get back to the Senators. With the tourism-specific and wider economic measures announced in the July stimulus programme I really hope I worked hard with my ministerial colleagues to prioritise this sector. I understand the concerns of those who want more longer-term measures, and that is what I will focus on now. This is just the start. Last week's July stimulus package and the longer-term national economic plan will be launched in October. I will work on ensuring the tourism sector's voice is heard loudly and clearly in the deliberations on that plan. Working together with Government and the industry I am confident in our ability to overcome the difficult challenges that lie ahead.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister.

Sharon Keogan (Independent)
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Minister-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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No, I am sorry Senator-----

Sharon Keogan (Independent)
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I wanted to-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry Senator. The House agreed its business. I apologise to Members but we have a certain allocation of time. The Minister has only so much time available. Under the current restrictions we must vacate the Chamber to have it cleansed. I apologise to Members but to be fair the Minister has given a commitment to come back to people if their queries were not answered. I am sure the Minister post recess will come back to us again. I appreciate and sincerely understand there are issues that Members have not had addressed and that some people have not had time to speak. We have limited time but I promise Members that we will have another debate.

Sitting suspended at 12.35 p.m. and resumed at 1 p.m.