Wednesday, 30 June 1976
Dáil Eireann Debate
That a sum not exceeding £52,483,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1976, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Transport and Power, including certain services administered by the Office and for payment of certain subsidies and sundry grants-in-aid.
Mr. Barrett: We are all delighted that the order for B & I was placed in the Cork dockyard. We have no doubt  it would have gone to Japan were it not for the row we kicked up and the manner in which we highlighted the previous Japanese orders.
Another matter to which I would like to draw the Minister's attention has to do with the west of Ireland and Shannon Airport. We all know responsibility for running the airport rested with Aer Rianta in the past two years. Shannon Airport, which is one of our success stories, was always run at local level, under local management, with an airport manager and a controller of sales and catering. It was run very successfully. It always made a decent profit in sales and catering down through the years. People employed there had a great personal interest in the success of the airport.
Recently Aer Rianta have been transferring all power of decision making from the airport to Dublin. This is a matter of grave concern and it will not lead to good relations between employees and management. This is happening even at the level of appointing summer staff, or temporary staff, or holiday staff, or whatever you like to call them, at the airport during the summer season. I understand these decisions are now being made by Aer Rianta. All the power of the present management is being eroded by the management of Aer Rianta. I have had many complaints already from employees, some of whom have been working there for 25 years. It will lead to serious employer-employee trouble. We never had a strike in Shannon until Aer Rianta were involved.
The Minister should look into this matter and ensure that the power of decision making at local level is not removed. If the airport had not been run successfully in the past there might be some reason for doing this, but it has been run successfully. Even in the past two years when tourism figures had dropped the cash flow and turnover and profit at the airport helped to keep Cork Airport going, which needs a bit of a boost as the Minister knows. The local airport manager and his staff are fully capable of running this airport without any interference from head office in small decisions  which were always made at local level. All issues should be dealt with at local level. I would ask the Minister to get involved immediately and prevent this happening in future, and to undo what has been done.
I should also like to mention legislation which was introduced here last week to provide a further subsidy for the ESB. In our opinion it is totally inadequate and it will make no impact on the very high charges the ESB are levying on people seeking the installation of current in new houses and in existing houses. There is provision for £300,000. During the by-elections the Minister announced in Ballycroy in Mayo that he would introduce legislation but I doubt £300,000 would complete the installation of current in Ballycroy parish alone. What is the procedure about making some changes and providing more money? There will be grave disappointment throughout the country because of the expectations people had that some relief would be introduced when the Minister introduced legislation.
Mr. Brennan: This is the only opportunity we have of discussing State-sponsored bodies such as CIE and the ESB. I should like to know from the Minister what interest he has taken in the deterioration in the service CIE are providing to the western seaboard and particularly Donegal. Is he aware of their failure to effect deliveries as they did heretofore? They are now selecting depots for central distribution. This is causing an extra charge to be placed on goods delivered to Donegal and puts us in a rather disadvantaged position and encourages more cross-Border traffic, legitimate or otherwise. This is a serious situation.
Time does not permit me to make a long speech but I want to remind the Minister that when railways were closed—and inquiries were made into the pros and cons of the effects of the closures at the time—CIE and the Department undertook that not only would we have as good a service in the future but that we would have a better service as a result of the substitution of a road service for the rail service. Now we are left with little  money for our roads and with a rapidly deteriorating transport service and nobody seems to bother or worry about us. Somebody has got to do something about it because we are left in a serious position and the people are irate.
Mr. Faulkner: I want to ask the Minister one question. Will he impress on CIE that closing stations and cutting down services is not the panacea for all ills? Will he request them to endeavour to promote business rather than disemploying people? The most recent instance of this was where passenger services, goods services and various other services were cut down. I am convinced that, if they had a proper sales system, they could promote business. On every occasion in which they find themselves in economic difficulties, the only recourse they have is to cut down services, close stations and disemploy people.
Mr. Leonard: The Minister will recall that on 6th April we on this side of the House proposed a Private Members' Motion deploring the “actions of the Government which have reduced the competitiveness of the Irish tourist industry and recommends that subventions necessary to restore competitiveness be provided”. The Minister did not accept that motion and moved a motion: “That Dáil Éireann recognises that the aim of the Government is to carry out a development programme for tourism to enable the industry to expand”.
The Minister said the figures were very much higher for 1976 than for 1975. Has his attention been drawn to a recent report from the Central Statistics Office stating that, for the first three months of the year, business in hotels and guesthouses was up by 27 per cent, despite the fact that the total number of bed nights was down by 10 per cent?
Would the Minister not think that is a very serious situation in the first few months after those budgetary competitiveness of the tourist indusmeasures were introduced, despite the  try? When this House returns the tourist season will be practically over. Would he not think that something should be done now, and quickly, to arrest this decline of ten per cent in three months, that this massive increase of 27 per cent is entirely due to inflation and the increase in VAT from 7.35 per cent to ten per cent and the budgetary drink increases? I would ask the Minister to examine that very carefully and to say what steps he intends to take to arrest that decline.
Minister for Transport and Power (Mr. P. Barry): I shall deal with the points as they were raised. Deputy Barrett referred to Aer Rianta and to the Bill circulated last week in regard to rural electrification. The question of Aer Rianta transferring decisionmaking from Shannon Airport to Dublin would be one for the board of Aer Rianta: it would be part of their internal organisation. I am not empowered to interfere and give them directions, as Deputy Barrett seems to think I should. However, I shall discuss with the chairman the points he has raised and the fears of the people in Shannon about the effect of decisions that may be taken in this regard by the Board of Aer Rianta.
I did not wait for the by-election in west Mayo to make the announcement about rural electrification. I had made it previously and reiterated it there. What I said this time last year and again in Ballycroy in Mayo was quite specific. I reiterated a number of times in this House that what I had in mind was that there were people in remote areas who, because of the high capital charge for the connection of electricity, were unable to take electricity. I instanced a number of places, Woodford in Galway, Ballycroy in Mayo, the Black Valley in Kerry and other places including Donegal, Deputy Brennan's constituency. I said these people were at a serious disadvantage because they were in the poorer and remote areas and that because they were in these areas, the charge was much higher than for people who had nearer sources of electricity. I undertook to pay the capital charge being asked by the ESB  for connection to those houses. I was quite precise in that any time I spoke on the matter, and Deputy Barrett was there the morning I spoke in west Mayo. That is all I undertook to do, and the Bill circulated last week will do that.
Deputy Barrett said the £300,000 would not be sufficient. This is the ESB's estimate of what it will cost, not mine. This is what they say will be involved in supplying these people with electricity, and I am taking their word for it. The Bill will be passed, hopefully, at the end of this year, and it will give electricity to these people who are deprived, purely because of their remoteness and the cost of connecting electricity, of what is nowadays considered almost a necessity of life. For as long as rural electrification has been going on since the end of the last war, they could not take the electricity. They will now get it without paying a capital charge. I think that is a good thing, and I have no apology to make to the people of Ballycroy or Woodford for whom this legislation is geared to cater.
Mr. P. Barry: I will take that up with CIE, as I will do with any other specific instances that are given. About six weeks ago I circulated a Road Transport Bill, and one of the provisions in that Bill is that, while up to now a licensed haulier could operate only one lorry on one licence, he will be able to operate as many as he likes. A second provision, which would be of particular relevance to more remote areas, is that no licence is required for a lorry of six tons laden weight. It will now be possible for people who were not previously in the haulage business in a small way to go into it, or it will be possible for the licensed  hauliers in the private sector to expand their service, because there will be no limitation on the number of lorries they can use on their licence to pick up goods where it is thought CIE are not doing a proper job. In the meantime, if any Deputy is concerned that an inadequate service is being provided by CIE——
Mr. P. Barry: That is not true. In any area there are CIE depots beyond which they will not deliver. There will always be people who will have to draw their goods from a CIE depot or dropping point. I do not think there is a door-to-door delivery service unless you pay extra for it. It may happen fortuitously that someone is on a CIE route or next door to a CIE depot, and he will not have to pay the extra charge, but, by and large, people have goods delivered to a central point whether it is a railway station or a depot, and must draw from there. CIE do not lightly or maliciously withdraw services in order to impede the progress of any area or to deliberately deprive an area of a service which they enjoyed up to that. Generally speaking, there is a sound financial reason, mainly lack of support by the local traders or local people.
That brings me to Deputy Faulkner's point about CIE's attitude to closing stations rather than promoting business. I would certainly agree with him that CIE should promote business and make as many services as possible economic and profitable, but we must face the fact that the Estimate we are passing today is for £52 million, and 60 per cent of that is a subsidy for CIE, £28 million of that £52 million. That is £500,000 a week or almost £100,000 a day to keep CIE operating. If a line is uneconomic and if CIE keep that line on and it continues to lose money, then it has not been supported by the people for whose benefit it is there. If there is a loss on it, that bill must be met  by taxation. CIE must strike a balance between coming to the ordinary taxpayer for further funds or trying to cut back.
It must be remembered that this is what McKinsey recommended, the consultants who were brought in in 1970, to study the whole operation. They reported that CIE could not continue to operate the vast range of railway services which they were offering at that time, that they would have to curtail, solidify and modernise their handling equipment for goods in order to become competitive with the private haulier who was continually taking trade away from CIE. The legislation for private hauliers was originally designed partly to protect CIE, the national carrier, but of the goods hauled in this country at the moment, CIE are doing only 7, 8 or 9 per cent, something as minimal as that, and the private haulier is doing another 7 per cent, and about 80 to 83 per cent of haulage in this country is being done on what is called “own account” haulage—from the point of view of the economy the most wasteful method of carrying goods. This is because the firm owners who put their own transport on the road were evidently quite satisfied that they could not get either from the private hauliers or CIE a service to satisfy them at a price which they consider competitive. That is one of the reasons I brought in this Road Transport Bill because I want to discourage people from hauling their own goods as much as possible and to build up a fully professional road transport system that would be profitable to the road hauliers and be of economic benefit to the country in general.
Mr. P. Barry: No. What the McKinsey Report recommended was that rather than having drops of small parcels at a large number of stations throughout the country they could gather in one depot and make  big drops or concentrate in a number of depots and make these viable in handling big amounts of goods.
Mr. P. Barry: Sorry, I have not dealt with Deputy Leonard's point. He talked about tourism and bed-nights being down 10 per cent in March. If he got the April figures for 1976 he would see an enormous increase in the number of bed-nights for April, 1976, over 1975. Of course there is an explanation for this. Easter in 1975 fell in March and Easter in 1976 was in April. In fact the figures up to date for this year show that the overall number of people coming to this country is up on 1975, as I prophesised it would be. It is significantly up from the mainland of Europe. I am satisfied with the increase from America.
I am disappointed that the figures are down in the United Kingdom, traditionally our biggest and nearest market. We are the destination that from the customer's point of view the English people should be looking to, because the cost of going to the Continent for them, because of the devaluation of the pound, is very much higher than it was even last year. But the figures are down for the first four months of this year over last year, and that is very disappointing.
I do not think there is any one reason for it. There are a number of reasons. But over all the tourism figures so far this year are up on last year. It is just a matter of chance that Easter fell in March last year. You remember last year Easter was very early, and Easter, as far as tourism into Ireland is concerned, is a very heavy period. It is one of the peaks of the tourist industry so that according as it falls in March or April, it unbalances the figures for that month.
Mr. P. Barry: They are comparative figures for the first three months of 1976 over 1975. If Easter had fallen on the same date in 1976 as it did in 1975 there would not have been a fall in bed-nights; the figures would be up.
Mr. Faulkner: While there is 10 per cent, that makes it a 20 per cent increase in revenue from intake into the hotels, and it is stated that it is due to the VAT and the increased charges. Would the Minister care to comment on that?
Mr. P. Barry: Yes, the federation applied to the National Prices Commission. They do not have to apply now, they are free to raise their own charges without applying to the National Prices Commission, but the hotels did raise their charges by 25 per cent from the 1st of January this year. I am not sure when it was, but sometime in the last two years the Minister for Industry and Commerce said that they were one of the groups that would not in the future have to apply to the National Prices Commission to raise their prices. Therefore when they did there was not the publicity attached that there would be in the publication of an ordinary NPC report, but they did give notice to Bord Fáilte in the printing of the Bord Fáilte hotels registration book last October or November or whenever it was, and their charges for 1976 were up that much.
Mr. P. Barry: That may be so, but  does the Deputy agree that the 15 or 17 per cent increase in April this year over that of 1975 does account for something? It cannot be left out of one and put into the other. One must take the four months when Easter is a movable feast.
Mr. Brennan: Is the Minister not aware that when drink, petrol and tobacco are much dearer here than they are in England people would be stupid to come over here and pay more? It is the Government's fault directly. They price themselves out of everything.
Mr. Barrett: The Minister referred to the Transport Bill which was referred to EEC. He has already introduced it. I would like to ask the Minister if it has come back from the EEC and if so if he would anticipate any changes in the Bill as a result.
Mr. P. Barry: It has not yet come back. There have been officials from my Department out on a number of occasions answering points raised by the Commission as regards it but they have not given the final decision on it yet.
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