Tuesday, 1 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
54. Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has met companies (details supplied) to discuss the number of cancellations being notified to the companies and the general decline in their tourist business; the steps which can be taken to address the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12015/01]
55. Mr. Flanagan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has discussed with the Department of Finance the possibility of temporary deferment of PRSI and PAYE payments for certain sections of the tourism industry in order to avoid immediate enforced redundancies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12020/01]
56. Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has received any response from the banks and financial institutions to the appeal he issued to be as sympathetic as possible in the case of any tourism business which experiences cash flow difficulties arising from the foot and mouth crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11968/01]
58. Ms McManus asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation his response to the seven point programme of measures suggested by the Irish Hotels Federation on 22 March 2001 to assist the tourism sector overcome current difficulties arising from the foot and mouth scare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11986/01]
60. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the extent of lay-offs and redundancies in the tourism sector as a result of the foot and mouth situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12050/01]
63. Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he will make available a one-off marketing fund to facilitate continued sales for tour companies selling Ireland in 2001 and to achieve results in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12009/01]
64. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the additional funding which will be made available to promote and market the tourism industry following the losses and cancellations consequent on the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. [12101/01]
65. Ms McManus asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation his estimate of the total revenue lost so far in 2001 to the tourism sector arising from the foot and mouth scare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11985/01]
66. Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the extent of the decline in tourism numbers in each region as a result of the foot and mouth situation; the estimated loss of revenue to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12004/01]
67. Mr. Dukes asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has met the banks and financial institutions to negotiate a scheme of interest free loans and deferred payments on existing loans for the tourism sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12029/01]
69. Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the additional marketing measures being pursued in continental Europe in order to attract continental visitors and counteract the effects of foot and mouth disease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12021/01]
74. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he expects the target of 6.6 million overseas visitors for the year 2001 to be achieved; if not, the revised target for the year; and the estimated reduction in the revenue forecast arising from the shortfall. [12100/01]
82. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if his attention has been drawn to the anger felt by those engaged in the tourism industry at the Government's reluctance to take full account of the huge losses they have incurred due to the foot and mouth outbreak; if he will devise a reasonable scheme to protect hotels and other enterprises which are suffering heavy financial and job losses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11995/01]
91. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has given any policy directives to assist the tourism industry in 2001 with particular reference to the need to focus on an early recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12054/01]
99. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the special efforts which will be put made to encourage tourists here in view of the impact on the tourism industry by foot and mouth disease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11600/01]
562. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the measures he has put in place recently or intends to put in place to assist businesses in the hotel sector and associated businesses which are experiencing difficulties due to the foot and mouth situation; the funding which the Government has made available in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12330/01]
566. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the estimated number of visitors who have cancelled trips due to the foot and mouth outbreak; the estimated value lost to the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11601/01]
576. Mr. Ellis asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the steps he will take, in conjunction with Bord Fáilte, to recover the angling business lost due to the foot and mouth problem. [11950/01]
While official CSO figures for overseas visitor numbers and revenue earnings for the year to date are not yet available, I understand from Bord Fáilte that latest industry estimates put total losses in tourism earnings incurred through cancellations and, more particularly, lost bookings since the onset of the foot and mouth crisis at £225 million. As I said previously, this figure is made up of £175 million in foreign earnings and £50 million in domestic business.
Without taking into account the beneficial impact of the measures I have outlined to address the adverse impact of foot and mouth disease on the industry, potential losses of out-of-State tourism revenue in 2001 could, according to Bord Fáilte, be as high as £500 million, with additional losses in domestic earnings of the order of £140 million, depending on market conditions and performance for the remainder of the year.
As yet, there are no estimates available as to how potential losses will impact on a regional basis. Information on the effects of the foot and mouth outbreak, both in Ireland and abroad, indicates that city based tourism is less affected, whereas rural areas, in particular those catering for activity segments such as walking and hiking, are particularly at risk. Another determinant of the regional impact in Ireland would be the extent to which the region is dependent on discretionary or leisure tourism, compared with business travel or other non-discretionary trips.
As a result of the foot and mouth crisis, Bord Fáilte's target of 6.6 million overseas visitors for 2001 will be extremely difficult to achieve. I understand the chairman of Bord Fáilte has set as a current objective, which he sees as challenging, the achievement of a similar level of performance as last year.
The Government target for tourism growth, as set out within the framework of the national development plan, is for an average annual increase of 5% in foreign exchange earnings over the period of the plan, 2000-06. Given that actual performance in year 2000 was ahead of target, there are no plans at this stage to revise this target.
While I understand from Bord Fáilte that the level of potential losses which, if they materialise, could put up to 25,000 jobs at risk, the latest live register figures suggest that there has been no significant job losses to date in the tourism sector as a result of the foot and mouth situation. CERT's contacts with the industry also suggest that the level of permanent job losses to date is minimal, but that recruitment levels in the coming peak season could be affected.
 My Department and I have been working closely with Bord Fáilte and the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation since the onset of the crisis to ameliorate the adverse impact on the tourism and hospitality industry. Taking on board many of the suggestions made by the industry, we have taken a range of measures to deal with the situation. As I have outlined the ten measures in question, I presume there is no need to go over them again.
My Department and Bord Fáilte are keeping the situation under close review with a view to making further appropriate adjustments, in consultation with the industry, to marketing and promotional activities planned for this year in line with the evolving situation. Our shared objective is to ensure no unnecessary medium to long-term damage is done to the tourism industry which is so important in economic terms.
As I have said before, the tourism industry has dealt successfully with crises in the past, including the fall-out from the Gulf War and the Northern Ireland troubles. It is a resilient and strong industry. With the help of the measures I have outlined and through its own efforts, we can overcome this current temporary set-back and meet the challenging average annual growth targets we have set under the national development plan.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): As regards the projected redundancies or job losses, does the Minister accept that when Bord Fáilte, the expert in the field, estimates that the figure will be 25,000, one can take it as a reasonable estimate? Does the Minister accept that tourism is seasonal in nature and that we “ain't seen nothing yet”? The high tourism season is only beginning when the effects of the foot and mouth crisis will impact.
As regards Question No. 54, has the Minister met the two companies in question, Aer Lingus and Irish Ferries? The reason I ask if he has met Aer Lingus is that it carries a substantial number of overseas visitors from the United States and Great Britain, in particular. Is the Minister aware that it informed our committee that the number of passengers from regional airports in Britain was down 18% and 10% from London? Is he aware that Irish Ferries carries 1.8 million passengers every year and 400,000 cars? Does he accept that, possibly, the best way to enable these companies to reclaim their losses, to retrieve the situation and salvage the ground lost is to give them marketing grants given that they have a track record, the know-how and credibility? They all fly the shamrock. Given that they have a marketing strategy and network in place, does the Minister accept that giving these companies direct funding would be a very positive step rather than give marketing grants exclusively to Bord Fáilte?
Dr. McDaid: I do not agree with that method. Because he only took up his position recently, the Deputy may not be aware that last year I established the Tourism Marketing Partnership precisely to overcome that situation. The carriers,  Aer Lingus and Irish Ferries, were advertising and marketing on the one side and there was Exchequer funding on the other. There was a great deal of overlap. The two came together in what is known as the Tourism Marketing Partnership and agreed to pool their marketing resources and knowledge of marketing this country as a destination. I do not agree with the Deputy, it has not been sought by the marketing companies.
Dr. McDaid: I met representatives of Aer Lingus in the United States. I also met Mr. Tony Kelly from Irish Ferries. I agree with the Deputy that they estimate the figures will, certainly, be down this year. They are current figures, but I have indicated that I hope there will be an upsurge later in the year. I also agree with the Deputy that this is a seasonal industry and have accepted that we will take a hit in June, July and August as a result of the foot and mouth situation. The Deputy is not suggesting that we should have dealt with it any differently. Recently, the British farming journal commented on the method by which the Irish Government dealt with the situation. It said that it was flexible and supportive when necessary. There has been praise throughout Europe and the rest of the world for the way in which we have handled the matter. The tourism industry, unfortunately, has been involved. Can the Deputy imagine what would have happened to the industry if we had not dealt with the foot and mouth situation in this way? We would not have been talking about a seasonal situation, but a wipe-out for the year. The Deputy will be fully aware, as will the tourism industry, that market share is very difficult to claw back. We could have been clawing it back for the next four or five years. As a result of what we have achieved – we have successfully contained foot and mouth disease – we can look more positively towards the future.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: Following on the Minister's comments, he will agree that rural tourism, in particular, will be adversely hit. It is an area of tourism that should receive some direct assistance. A promotional video is being made in west Kerry specifically for a television station in New York. It will have a huge audience. Funding has been collected but there is a shortage of £1,000, despite knocking on every door in County Kerry. This work is being done by rural people to save their businesses for this and next year. Matching funding should be made available by the Department, especially in the rural tourism sector.
It is likely that the foot and mouth situation will be volatile for the rest of the year. We cannot become immersed in crisis and paralysis every time there is an outbreak. The Department must prepare strategies to ensure there are no further  outbreaks and to address occasional and more widespread ones should they arise.
Dr. McDaid: I agree with the Deputy that tourism is vital to her area. I will consider her request but it would be logistically impossible to give every sector that type of support. Everybody has been adversely affected by the foot and mouth situation but Exchequer funding has always been given to Bord Fáilte. In 1988 there were 800,000 visitors to the country. Given the funding provided to Bord Fáilte by successive Government to market Ireland as a destination, visitor numbers rose to 6.3 million last year. It is the body to which funds should be directed with a view to overcoming the current situation.
The issue of crisis management will not recur. At the outset everybody across Europe was surprised at the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Today any five year old child knows what is involved. We have learned, especially from the expert group. Perhaps much of the initial advertising was unnecessary but we were dealing with a situation where nobody knew what should be done, other than to ensure the disease did not spread. We have learned, but unfortunately it was at some cost.
Mr. Naughten: The Minister indicated that the economy lost £640 million with the possibility that 25,000 jobs in the tourism sector may be lost. What discussions has he had with the financial institutions with regard to providing relief for the tourism sector? What discussions have taken place between his Department, the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the county managers on the question of rates remissions for businesses? Local authorities cannot act alone on this.
Will the Minister indicate the total budget allocated in the current year for internal marketing within this country to encourage people to stay at home? Will he consider allocating some of that funding to the local marketing co-operatives to promote their packages? In view of the detrimental effect of foot and mouth diseases in the west, which is rural based, and in view of the rail dispute last summer which also damaged the economy, what measures have been taken in the Department of the Environment and Local Government to ensure the proposed blockage of the N5 for the June bank holiday weekend does not proceed as it would have a further negative impact on tourism?
Dr. McDaid: Perhaps the Deputy could take up the N5 issue with the Department of the Environment and Local Government. I will see what I can do. I and the Government pleaded with the financial institutions with regard to the foot and mouth situation and there was a positive response from them. They indicated they would consider matters on a case by case basis. I have indicated  the action they promised with regard to one sector.
The issue of rates remissions is a matter for the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Department of Finance. I understand it would not be possible to proceed on that basis, nor is it required. However, it will be considered in the long-term depending on how the figures turn out. Additional funding of £10 million has been allocated. Of this £8 million has been confirmed and a further £2 million will be allocated if necessary in another two months. The funding is to be allocated among the main markets, including the domestic market. I also allocated an additional £150,000 to the County Louth area. I am sure the Deputies will agree that was required in view of the fact that restrictions there have been lifted only in the past two days.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I request the Minister and the Deputies to try to stay within the one minute allocated for supplementary questions. A number of Deputies are offering and they cannot be facilitated in the time granted if their colleagues take up more than the minute allocated to them.
Mr. Stanton: I apologise to the House for my late attendance. The train from Cork was two hours late and tourists on the train were very upset. Will the Minister indicate why it is not possible for the local authorities to waive rates, given that the Local Government (Rates) Act, 1970, is still in force?
Mr. M. Moynihan: The Irish Hotels Federation has requested a waiver or reduction in VAT to be charged to hotel accommodation. Will the Minister respond to this and to the proposal that low interest loan schemes be made available for an initial period of six months, to be reviewed at the end of August?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Has the Minister discussed with his colleague, the Minister for Finance, the possibility of the deferment of PAYE and PRSI payments to avoid immediate redundancies? The IHF is also seeking this. Is he aware that less than a mile from here several large hotels have closed one and two floors because of the absence of tourists?
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