Wednesday, 7 July 1971
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. O'Donnell: Does the Minister know the figures are in fact available? Is he not aware that figures have been produced by CIE in relation to their tour traffic and also by the Great Southern Hotel Company in relation to bed occupancy? Is the Minister aware that the figures produced in the last 24 hours by the Great Southern Hotel  Company in relation to bed occupancy for the month of June show a consistent fall-off for June over the past four years and a 10 per cent reduction in business compared with June of last year? Is the Minister aware that the figures produced by CIE tours within the past 24 hours show a fall-off of 15 per cent in American tour traffic as compared with last year? Has the Minister any comment to make, seeing that he is as well aware of that as I am?
Mr. B. Lenihan: I have said already that the whole pattern of tourism is changing and that much more than in the past we are now developing a type of tourism that does not engage in advance booking where people are coming by car ferry and otherwise. In that changing situation one cannot make an exact assessment until the actual month is past and the figures are collected and collated. This is being done by Bord Fáilte at present in regard to June and a report will be available later this month. Pending that report I think it is unwise to indulge in what is mere speculation.
Mr. O'Donnell: Does the Minister not agree that figures for bed occupancy and traffic for the month of June produced by a semi-State body with a highly organised sales force in Britain and Northern America—CIE —indicate a very alarming situation and a situation which was forecast months ago by everybody in the tourist industry except the Minister and Bord Fáilte?
Mr. B. Lenihan: I can assure the Deputy that we had that situation very much in hand months ago in regard to tour traffic. This is involved in the change in the pattern of tourism. You may have fewer people coming on bus tours but many more people coming on car ferries. The B & I figures for the car ferries are up substantially in April, May and June of this year, up in the region of 8 per cent.
Mr. O'Donnell: asked the Minister for Transport and Power whether he is aware that the subvention to Bord Fáilte for 1971-72 is considered to be grossly inadequate to meet the  needs of the tourist industry; if so, whether any steps will be taken to rectify the matter; and, if not, why.
Mr. B. Lenihan: The grant-in-aid for Bord Fáilte in the current financial year amounts to £6,230,000, an increase of £680,000 on the 1970-71 provision. This amount was settled in the light of the overall demands on the limited resources of the Exchequer. I am aware that some interests regard the 1971-72 provision as inadequate and that Bord Fáilte could utilise additional funds, but the allocation for the development of tourism this year is reasonable, having regard to the general budgetary situation. I am, however, keeping the finances of the board under review.
Mr. O'Donnell: Would the Minister not admit that in view of the serious problem with which the tourist industry had to contend in the past 12 months and in the light of the continuing problem with which the industry will have to contend in the 1972 season, the present subvention for Irish tourism is grossly inadequate, and indeed absolutely ridiculous, and bears no relation to the needs of the industry? Will the Minister tackle this situation and ensure that the industry will be adequately financed?
Mr. B. Lenihan: I dispute the logic of the Deputy's supplementary which suggests that unlimited subventions to Bord Fáilte or any other such organisation are the answer. What we want is value for what we subvent to such organisations.
Mr. L'Estrange: The people will not come because there is fighting in Ireland. At least 12 tourists to whom we  spoke said that to us. Can anything be done by means of grants to improve our image abroad?
Mr. B. Lenihan: Every Deputy is aware of that problem which has arisen because of the unfortunate events in the north eastern part of this island in the past two years. Let us not fool ourselves: no amount of publicity will counteract that factual situation.
Mr. B. Lenihan: Section 4(4) of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1939, provides for the appointment of members of the Board of Bord Fáilte Éireann by the Minister for Transport and Power with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Section 6(a) of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1970 increased membership of the board from seven to nine. The two additional members were appointed on 8th September, 1970. I am not contemplating any further restructuring of the board.
Changes in the board's internal organisation and structure are the responsibility of the board. Following the  appointment of a new director general, I understand that the internal structure and organisation is being examined with a view to making any changes that may be necessary.
Mr. O'Donnell: Allowing for the fact that the Minister has increased the membership of the board and allowing for other things he says he has done and allowing for the fact that Bord Fáilte are hamstrung by inadequate finance, would the Minister now agree that following a second year of most unsatisfactory results as far as tourist traffic is concerned the present board and organisation of Bord Fáilte clearly have neither the ability nor capacity to meet the adversities and the new challenge facing Irish tourism and that much more drastic reorganisation and restructuring is necessary?
Mr. B. Lenihan: The Deputy's remarks are not very helpful. Last September, on my initiative, the national tourism council was established under which Bord Fáilte and the various interests concerned in tourism meet together. So far as this council is concerned, no such destructive comment or criticism has emerged to me in recent months.
Mr. O'Donnell: Is the Minister aware that the consensus of opinion in the tourist industry at the moment— I regret to say that I subscribe to this opinion now—is that Bord Fáilte have fallen down on the job? They have shown a high degree of incompetence in relation to the handling of the problems that have confronted Irish tourism in the past 18 months.
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