Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Tourism Industry

10:30 am

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State is very welcome to the House and I appreciate him being here on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. I am very grateful that she sent her apologies to me yesterday. I want to speak about the importance of inclusive and accessible tourism. As a society, we recognise the necessity of ensuring everyone can participate in activities without restriction or barrier. This includes ensuring all people have the ability to travel and enjoy tourism experiences. Tourism is an essential component of our economy. It is crucial that we embrace the concept of inclusive and accessible tourism to ensure all people feel welcomed and valued.

It is completely unacceptable that many disabled individuals and their families face significant challenges and barriers when it comes to enjoying what our country has to offer.It is a missed opportunity for adventure, growth and learning, never mind an opportunity for financial reward from being able to get more customers. We cannot continue to exclude a large proportion of our community. We therefore need to work together to ensure that tourism facilities and destinations are made more accessible and welcoming for all. It is essential to provide information, training and support to tourism operators and stakeholders to ensure they can be responsive and can accommodate the needs of guests with disabilities.

For this reason, I believe the Government has a responsibility to create new funding schemes to support organisations and communities to upgrade their tourism facilities. Such a programme would give financial aid and capacity-building opportunities to businesses and individuals to make their facilities more accessible and welcoming for all. For example, we could have an accessible tourism enablers' grant that would improve tourism and events. Businesses could create more acceptable websites, guides, images and videos and introduce adaptive and assistive technologies and equipment that would maximise the visitor experience. We could have a tourism infrastructure grant to enhance and develop accessible tourism projects, raise awareness of accessible tourism experiences and enhance existing tourism infrastructure or products to develop accessible visitor experiences. We could have a boosting accessible tourism grant that would fund the development and enhancement of tourism products to create smaller scale infrastructures that would make things more accessible for everyone.

Through such schemes, the Government could inspire innovation in the tourism industry, paving the way for world-class accessible infrastructure and technologies that will be vital for a thriving tourism sector. I am in no doubt that funds such as this would increase the number of tourism experiences and events delivered for all our community. It would have a huge positive impact on communities for all visitors. It would also provide an economic opportunity for small businesses throughout the country to attract more customers.

By working together, we can make sure that travel and tourism experiences are more accessible and inclusive. There are so many barriers in our society. We all look forward to experiencing tourism and tourism experiences around this beautiful country during our summer break. There should not be any barriers to people with disabilities in our families and communities.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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The Senator has raised a very good point. I will take this debate on behalf of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. The Senator has been in contact with the Minister, and obviously both the Minister and her officials will keep a very close eye on this debate.

The role of the National Tourism Development Authority, Fáilte Ireland, is funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and supports the long-term sustainable growth in the economic, social, cultural and environmental contribution of tourism to Ireland. The Minister has secured funding of €36.5 million in capital funding for Fáilte Ireland in order to support tourism product development and for the continued delivery of enhanced visitor experiences in line with the objectives of the National Development Plan 2021-2030.

Broadly speaking, Fáilte Ireland has four main funding channels for its capital investment in tourism product development to support the development and enhancement of tourism attractions. These are large grants schemes which are provided under the platforms for growth's approach to such schemes; small grants schemes are targeted schemes which are usually aligned with the tourism experience brands; strategic partnerships and other collaborations; and direct investment in experience brand infrastructure.

Fáilte Ireland takes into consideration accessibility whenever developing capital projects. Under the second platform for growth scheme, the “exemplar design” for water sports facilities, for example, was designed with regard to the CARA guidelines for inclusive recreation in the outdoors.

Recent changes in legislation amend Part M, which falls under my remit in the Department, as does housing for people with disabilities. It is an area in which I am very interested. This issue expands into tourism and now includes the provision of changing places or toilets in certain buildings. In March of this year, Fáilte Ireland approved an organisation policy position to include "changing places" facilities in all new product development projects, where appropriate.

Fáilte Ireland works in partnership with the Government, State agencies, local authorities, representative groups and industry to develop tourism across lreland by creating destination development plans and networks, which includes investing in infrastructure. Fáilte Ireland also provides consumer and buyer insights.

Accessibility is a central element of any responsible and sustainable development. It is a critical component of tourism development, enabling all people to participate in and enjoy tourism experiences. This does not only equate to providing access to those with disabilities but it also addresses the importance of creating universally designed environments for people with physical needs, the increasing ageing population and those who have difficulty with mobility.

Implementing the principles of accessible tourism involves a collaborative process. Fáilte Ireland, working in partnership with public agencies, local authorities, NGOs and local stakeholders, will continue to use best practice in implementing the principles of universal design across all projects to ensure that all persons are able to use and enjoy all available amenities in an equitable and sustainable manner. This also showcases to other towns and cities around the country what can be achieved and the way forward for other projects across lreland.

Accessible tourism is about making it easy for everyone to enjoy tourism experiences while bearing in mind that improvements in accessibility can result in increased visitor numbers and enjoyment for all tourism. To further enhance its work in this important area, Fáilte Ireland is recruiting an inclusive tourism manager to oversee the new Fáilte Ireland inclusivity programme and to help shape and influence the future of tourism in Ireland. This role will support the Irish tourism sector in developing a tourism product that is inclusive of all tourists and travellers the length and breadth of Ireland.

By way of observation in the limited time I have, Fáilte Ireland has grant schemes. The Senator has asked whether there is a way to ensure they are fully disability proofed. When the inclusive tourism manager is appointed I would expect the Senator's first port of call will be a meeting with that person, whoever he or she is, to look at the process first. It is not always about reinventing the wheel but considering whether existing schemes can be adapted and become more robust within the area of disabilities in terms of inclusiveness.

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for the response and encouraging words. Like so many issues, there is goodwill in many policies but the end user does not get the best value. Part M has been amended to ensure there is provision in certain buildings and relates to the Minister of State's Department but nothing has been made compulsory. Currently, it is not compulsory to provide "changing places and toilets" when public toilets are being upgraded. We are moving into a new Ireland and a new accessible and welcoming world. If the provision of changing places and toilets is not made mandatory, we are saying "No" to the people who need them and that they are only welcome in certain buildings and certain parts of our towns.

I want specific positive grants that encourages businesses, organisations and local authorities to create products for everyone in the community. A person who is either visually or physically impaired needs to be able to use facilities. Avondale Forest Park in County Wicklow is a wonderful product and has a wonderful relationship with the Carlingford Adventure Centre in County Louth. That is important but we cannot say we have only one product that is welcoming. Where else in County Wicklow can someone go on any day? Are there changing places and suitable toilets close by? We are not disability proofing. The only way we can disability proof buildings and communities is to make it mandatory and positively discriminate towards people with disabilities. That will benefit everyone not just people with disabilities.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. I reiterate that Fáilte Ireland is recruiting an inclusive tourism manager to oversee the new Fáilte Ireland inclusivity programme. The key priorities of the role will include developing a medium- to long-term plan for Fáilte Ireland to support the development of an Irish tourism sector that is inclusive of all tourists in terms of destinations; developing the ongoing capability of Fáilte Ireland's teams to ensure an understanding of barriers to access for visitors, by disability sector; supporting the building of capability within tourism businesses to ensure the development of inclusive products and experiences; and, working with targeted destinations, drive an holistic approach to inclusivity and supporting the development of actionable plans to make destinations more accessible for all.

I can see how committed the Senator is to this area. Grant schemes are in place and Fáilte Ireland is recruiting an inclusive tourism manager to oversee the new Fáilte Ireland inclusivity programme. That is to be welcomed and it is the route to take.I would encourage detailed active engagement with that person when appointed and through the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. We want everybody to be able to enjoy the fantastic amenities we have in Ireland regardless of their circumstances. People with disabilities are entitled to the same accessibility to enjoy all the amenities we have.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State and Senator McGreehan. That was a very interesting and engaging Commencement matter.

The final Commencement matter in the name of Senator Dolan on Covid-19 pandemic special recognition payments cannot be taken today because the Department has not provided a speaking note on it. It will be carried over.

I welcome the students from the Holy Family School. They are very welcome to Seanad Éireann.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.11 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 11.30 a.m.

Sitting suspended at 11.11 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.