Thomas Pringle TD

Pringle Says Coach Tourism Scheme Ignores Rural Realities

I have taken quite a volume of calls to my office over the past week or so, from rural bus operators in County Donegal. They are querying what they see as the overly stringent nature of the qualifying criteria of the Coach Tourism Business Continuity Scheme operated by Fáilte Ireland. Specifically, they feel aggrieved where, as stated in the guidelines: Qualifying vehicle(s) under this Scheme must meet all of the below criteria:

• Must have been actively used by the applicant, as at 13 March 2020, primarily for the carriage for reward of tourists by
road under contracts for group transport; and

• Must have been registered on or after 1 July 2013.

• The vehicle(s) must have a valid certificate of insurance, as at
13 March 2020; and

• The vehicle(s) must be used primarily for the provision of transport services consisting of carriage for reward of tourists by road under contracts for group transport

 

They feel that disqualification on the basis that they operate buses that are deemed too old to qualify or are not primarily used in coach tourism, is highly unfair to small rural operators who take on all types of work in order to survive. As they have outlined to me, they are an integral part of the tourism industry in Donegal.

As an example: Over recent years my own town of Killybegs has worked successfully to develop the cruise liner business. Our small rural operators have stepped up to the mark to service these tourists coming ashore for day trips within the County and wider Northwest region. Without their commitment, this initiative would have died in its infancy as there would not have been the interest or financial incentive to attract large operators to this intermittent work. So, it was the small guys who did and continue to do the heavy lifting.

Many have contracts for group transport, and I want to highlight that the age of their buses is not a problem with tour operators to whom they are contracted. It is simply that they could not justly describe it as their core work or the primary use of their vehicle. Because for most, the tourism industry is unable to provide the level of work that would sustain them or their workers exclusively, so in addition, they provide service to a whole range of community needs such as the school transport scheme, local link, GAA clubs etc. These may seem insignificant or irrelevant to the Minister and those who designed the scheme, but they are vital services to our local rural communities. Yet none of them alone could provide a sustainable income for a small rural operator. I’m sure other Deputies in the house tonight would agree with me that this is the same up and down the country.

If I was a cynical person, I could be tempted to believe that once again the government and the Minister has purposefully set up a scheme designed to exclude a lot of genuine operators within the tourism sector in order to drive down demand and consequentially costs of the scheme. I am clear in my mind that the scheme does not recognise the reality of bus & coach operations in rural Ireland. I also note that the €10 million or so allocated to the scheme was far short of what the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland submitted to the Minister would be required for such a scheme. With the closing date fast approaching for the existing scheme:

 

Can you give me some information and statistics on the take up of the scheme?

And

Whether you are considering continuing it or a similar scheme?

And

Will you look at amending it so as not to exclude those like the small rural Bus and Coach operators in Donegal who play their part, which is a vital part, in the tourism industry? In summary Minister, I’m calling on you:

To renew the scheme.
To review the scheme, and,
To properly fund the scheme.

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