The visa waver programme as well as the reduction on VAT rates from 13.5% to 9% for the hospitality sector are both measures designed to give a shot in the arm to the tourist industry.

I believe that Government needs to be proactive in helping our tourist product recover. Particularly here in the Mid-West we need a strong tourism sector. As a government, we have listened to concerns of hotels, restaurants, holidaymakers and many others involved in the sector. As a result, today Government has announced a short stay visa waiver programme.

This programme will apply to tourists and business people from 16 states, including China, India and Russia. Visitors from these countries will be able to stay in Ireland for a maximum of 90 days. This will ensure we encourage a greater number of tourists from new markets to visits here, and I would encourage all local tourist agencies to begin marketing the Mid-West to capitalise on this change in procedure.

Other countries included in visa waiver programme includes nationals of Belarus, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Kazakhstan, China and Uzebekistan.

The programme will run as a pilot scheme until the end of October 2012 but it may be amended or expanded at any point depending on the results.

The second initiative announced today is a reduction of VAT in the hospitality sector from 13.5% to 9%. This is to encourage more spend on hotels, restaurants and many other businesses across the sector. I would encourage all businesses for whom the reduction applies to pass on the savings to customers with immediate effect.

Generally, it will mean a reduction for example in the price of an average meal in a restaurant or on a bed night in a hotel or B&B. On their own, these measures will not completely restore our tourist numbers, but they are part of an ongoing determination by this Government to get this country back on track. They follow the highly successful visits to Ireland by both president Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II, where thousands of newspaper articles and television reports about this country were broadcast worldwide.

Last year, we already saw signs of recovery in the tourism market, with year-on-year growth of 8.6% per cent in visitor numbers in the first quarter of the year. It is vitally important for areas like the Mid-West that this trend continues.”