I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. An explanatory memorandum has been circulated already to Deputies in which the main provisions of the Bill are explained.
The Bill marks a further stage in the development of Shannon Airport into what we hope will be one of the best and most up-to-date airports in the world. As Deputies are aware, it is intended to provide at Shannon all the facilities which the International Civil Aviation Organisation considers necessary at a main transatlantic airport. The expenditure involved represents a substantial commitment for a country of our population and size, and our willingness to undertake it shows that we recognise that the country's geographical position imposes on it a special responsibility in providing facilities of the high order required for a transatlantic service.
The establishment of a free airport at the Shannon is a logical development of the aviation policy that has been followed since the decision was taken ten years ago to build an airport there. The runways being laid down will take the largest aircraft in commercial operation and the terminal building to be erected and other facilities to be provided will be worthy of Europe's main transatlantic airport.
By this Bill we are making the Shannon Airport the first free airport in the world. The customs-free airport is, in a sense, an Irish invention and for that reason I should, perhaps, say something on how the idea originated. Air travellers have always found the delays imposed by customs and other formalities much more vexatious than travellers proceeding by sea or by rail. Air travel is much faster than surface travel and the delay involved in clearing customs, currency and passport requirements may represent a big proportion of the time taken on an air trip, whereas it is a relatively insignificant part of a sea journey that may take many days.
At an airport like the Shannon, where most of the traffic in passengers and goods is transit traffic, there is a strong case for cutting down to the minimum the time taken by these formalities. The Government are in full sympathy with the air companies and others interested in civil aviation when they urge that a relaxation of customs, passport and other restrictions imposed upon international travellers is essential in developing the full potentialities of air transport. The Government have, therefore, been concerned to ensure the most favourable conditions in that respect at Shannon Airport.
Under the Paris Convention, which has governed the international relations of some 33 countries, including this country, in the sphere of civil aviation for the past 25 years, there was no provision for the setting up of customs-free airports. In 1944 a new convention was drawn up at Chicago to replace the Paris Convention. We availed of the opportunity to secure international recognition in principle for the establishment of customs-free airports. Our representatives took the initiative in laying down requirements for customs-free airports at a number of meetings of the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organisation at Montreal where a special division was set up to consider measures for the facilitation of international air services. Having secured international agreement on the concept and requirements of a customs-free airport, we proceeded to prepare plans for Shannon. This Bill is designed to translate these plans into action. The Bill provides that goods and passengers in transit through Shannon airport will not be subject to customs examination. Passengers landing at Shannon eastward to Europe or westward to America will not have to present their baggage for customs inspection. Goods brought by plane to Shannon will be free from all customs restrictions so long as they remain within the boundary of the free airport. There will be no customs officials within the free airport and compliance with any customs regulations that may still remain in force will be secured not by officers of customs and excise but by officers of the Department of Industry and Commerce.
Besides the customs regulations applied at customs airports in common with sea ports and land frontiers, the staff of the Revenue Commissioners enforce other restrictions such as those designed to safeguard the public health and to prevent the spread of animal and plant diseases. In addition there are certain articles the importation of which is prohibited in pursuance of international conventions to which this State has adhered. There is provision in the Bill for the making of regulations reimposing these safeguards and prohibitions at the free airport and for continuing the present currency control so long as it may be necessary. The regulations required will be made in consultation with the other Ministers concerned and compliance with the regulations will be enforced by officers to be appointed for that purpose.
It is recognised, however, that the establishment of the free airport while conferring great benefits on air travellers and on those sending goods by air, also offers temptations to persons seeking to defraud the revenue. Accordingly, powers of search are provided. One of the chief difficulties experienced in drafting the Bill related to local traffic passing through the airport and to visitors at the airport. We did not want to impose customs examination on sightseers or on people travelling by air from Shannon to Collinstown. The problem has been met by setting aside as a customs area a portion of the terminal building and part of the landing field adjacent to it. Persons travelling by air from Dublin to Shannon will disembark in that area and will not have to undergo customs examination unless they wish to enter the airport to join an aircraft for a foreign destination. Visitors coming to the airport as sightseers or to meet their friends arriving by air will be allowed into the customs area, without examination. The accommodation in the customs area will include a lounge, a restaurant and an open space in which the operations can be seen. In order to prevent abuses it will be necessary to segregate transit passengers from disembarking passengers and from local visitors. The confining of visitors and disembarking passengers to the customs area will achieve that purpose. It will be possible to make special arrangements for persons who have particular business in the free port area to pass from one section to another.
Passengers or goods entering or leaving Ireland via Shannon will pass through the customs as at present. As goods may be brought free of duty into the customs-free airport from abroad and stored there, it is thought it may be of advantage to the United States and other commercial interests to set up depots at the airport from which delivery may be made by air, to meet urgent orders from any of the many parts of Europe and North America which have direct air communication with Shannon. It is also hoped that some manufacturers may find it desirable to undertake within the free airport the packing, processing and rehandling of goods. Developments on these lines will be welcomed and every reasonable facility will be given to exporters and manufacturers who desire accommodation there. Already, even before the establishment of the free airport, a fair amount of freight is passing through Shannon. Some of the cargoes despatched from there have a very particular interest for this country. Deputies will remember, for example, the racehorses which were shipped to the United States and the shipment of greyhounds to France. It is difficult at present to assess the prospects for the carriage of freight by air, but there certainly are possibilities. It will be clear that we are anxious to encourage this development. Shannon, as I have said, is equipped to take the largest aircraft at present engaged in freight services. The developments contemplated will ensure that it will continue to be able to cater for all types of cargo aircraft that may be employed for many years to come.
As there is no similar legislation in existence here or elsewhere, some provisions of the Bill may have to be amended in the light of experience. Quite a few problems have arisen in drafting the Bill but it has been possible to surmount them because of the co-operative spirit in which they were approached by all concerned. In that connection, I might mention that the Revenue Commissioners have taken a large part in the study, by the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organisation, of the general question of facilitating international services, as well as in drawing up plans for our free airport. I have no doubt that the same co-operative spirit will enable us to overcome the difficulties that will arise in putting into effect the provisions of the Bill. I should say that all the air lines operating through Shannon have been most helpful in working out a satisfactory scheme and we can, I think, count on their continued collaboration. I am confident that if the Bill is passed, we shall be able to show the way in relieving air traffic passing through Shannon airport of some of the restrictions which air travellers all over the world are united in deploring.