It has been agreed that items Nos. 2, 8, 9 and 10 will be taken together.
Air Navigation and Transport Bill, 1987: Second Stage.
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Because each of the six Protocols referred to would involve a charge on public funds, Article 29.5 of the Constitution requires approval of the terms of the Protocols by Dáil Éireann before the State could be bound by them. Each Protocol would give rise to administrative costs associated with the deposit of the State's instrument of ratification in due course. Only the 1984 Protocol to the Chicago Convention would give rise to additional operating costs by its obligation on Contracting States to take "appropriate measures to prohibit the deliberate use of any civil aircraft ... for any purpose inconsistent with the aims of the Convention". The text of each of the six Protocols was laid before Dáil Éireann on 16 October 1987 for the purposes of these motions.
Part III of the Bill is designed to give effect to the Protocols to the Warsaw Convention while Part IV is designed to give effect to the 1984 Protocol to the Chicago Convention. I shall be commenting further on those Protocols when dealing with those Parts of the Bill.
The Air Navigation and Transport Bill, 1987, which was recently passed by Seanad Éireann, substantially updates and strengthens the Air Navigation and Transport Acts, 1936 to 1986, which is the basic law governing civil aviation in Ireland. The Bill gives effect to the Government's decision on the outcome of the thorough review of those Acts, which was started by Deputy Jim Mitchell, in the light of experience both in Ireland and abroad.
The twin purposes of the Bill are to promote the greates possible security and safety of civil aviation in the State and to enable the State to meet its international obligations by ratifying a number of Protocols to International Civil Aviation Conventions. In other words, the Bill is designed to safeguard Irish civil aviation and to foster its development in line with the best international standards.
Ireland's airspace and airports are as secure and safe as the best in the world and, with the enactment and full implementation of the Bill now before the House, should remain so. There is, of course, no room for complacency where the security or safety of civil aviation is concerned. I can, therefore, assure the House that the Minister for Tourism and Transport and I will vigorously pursue the attainment of ever higher standards wherever possible and take prompt action where proper standards are not being met. The Bill enables us to do so. I also wish to reiterate the commitment the Minister gave to this House at Question Time on 11 November 1987 that, notwithstanding the severe difficulties facing the Exchequer for the foreseeable future, adequate financial resources will continue to be made available for the updating and re-equipment of air navigation facilities in the State on an ongoing basis.
Being a small island on the periphery of Europe, Ireland is very much dependent on air services for securing needed growth in tourism and trade and, indeed, for development generally. We have a vital interest in securing the liberalisation of air transport in the European Communities, so as to open up new opportunities abroad for Irish airlines and extend the range and volume of air services between Ireland and other countries. For that reason, and as the Minister informed the House at Question Time on 11 November 1987, he will fully support the adoption, at the Council of Transport Ministers on 7 December, 1987, of the EC air transport package finalised by the Council last June and not adopted because of a problem which arose in relation to Gibraltar. The Gibraltar problem seems to have been resolved. If adopted — and I know the House shares our earnest hope that it will be — the liberalisation package could substantially boost Ireland's earnings from tourism in 1988.
The Government's five year development programme for tourism, now in preparation and reaching its final stages, will continue the Government's vigorous drive to reduce access costs. The reductions secured by the Government in 1987 — and only in operation since May — have already greatly boosted the numbers of tourists coming to Ireland and should of themselves enhance prospects for 1988. All of these developments urge us to be forever alert to the need to safeguard the interests of air travellers in Irish airspace or at Irish airports or on board Irish aircraft wherever they may be. The Air Navigation and Transport Bill now before this House is intended to achieve standards of security and safety in Irish civil aviation second to none.
The Bill is an extensive measure comprising 48 sections and two Schedules. It was published with a comprehensive explanatory and financial memorandum. However, to facilitate consideration of the Bill by this House, I will now make a brief commentary on its main provisions which fall into ten separate categories. Briefly, the Bill obliges all operators of civil aerodromes in the State and all others doing business at those aerodromes to comply with security and safety requirements. It gives the Minister for Tourism and Transport specific power to specify and enforce security and safety requirements at such aerodromes and in relation to aircraft. They are contained in sections 5 to 9 and 12 to 16. Thus, the Bill applies not only to the three State-owned civil airports at Cork, Dublin and Shannon but also to all other civil airports in the State including Connaught, Waterford and Sligo Airports. Throughout the Bill, the appropriate technical term "aerodrome"— which is defined in section 2 of the Bill — is used to denote what are colloquially known as civil airports.
The Bill prohibits — and provides severe penalties for — activities which could endanger or disrupt aviation: for having certain dangerous articles in aerodromes, aircraft or air navigation installations without lawful authority or reasonable excuse or cause, in sections 11 and 17. I shall be proposing an amendment on both sections 11(2) and 17(2) on Committee Stage to delete the words "or reasonable excuse" and "or reasonable cause". Legal advice confirms my view that those words could undermine the sections prohibition on the unlawful possession of firearms and other dangerous articles in aerodromes, air navigation installations or aircraft. That obviously calls for prompt amendment of both sections. The Bill prohibits the giving of any false alarm which interferes with the operation of any civil aerodrome, aircraft, or air navigation installation in the State, dealt with in section 41. It deals also with the impersonation of "authorised officers" or "authorised persons" appointed to perform a variety of inspectorial and other duties under the Air Navigation and Transport Acts, which are dealt with in section 40.
The Bill empowers the Minister for Tourism and Transport to prohibit or restrict dumping near any civil aerodrome in the State so as to obviate danger, etc., to aviation from flocks of birds. That is dealt with in section 21. The Bill enables aerodrome by-laws to be made by the Minister for Tourism and Transport to deal also with illegal car parking by providing for the wheelclamping or removal, etc. of the illegally parked vehicles, section 24; and provides extensive, but necessary, powers of search and so on of persons and vehicles on all civil aerodromes, to prevent crime, section 31; and enables the Minister for Tourism and Transport to make by-laws for all civil aerodromes in the State, and not only for Cork, Dublin and Shannon Airports, as at present, section 25.
The Bill substantially increases maximum penalties for all offences under the Air Navigation and Transport Acts to deter would-be offenders, from the existing levels from £5 to £1,000 up to new levels of £1,000 for summary offences and £50,000 for indictable offences, with or without a term of imprisonment as the court may deem appropriate in the circumstances. Details are given in pages 7-8 of the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill. It safeguards the interests of all persons using aerodromes who suffer injury, and so on thereby requiring all aerodromes to be insured against all public liability while in operation or prohibiting the operation of aerodromes if not so insured, section 10. This section is supplemented by section 9, as amended by Seanad Éireann, to enable the Minister for Tourism and Transport to prohibit the landing of aircraft at, or the departure of aircraft from, uninsured aerodromes. I shall be proposing two amendments on Committee Stage to correct a drafting flaw in section 10 by providing for section 10 to come into operation one month after the Bill becomes law. The amendments are needed to allow for the making of ministerial regulations, under subsection (2) of the section, to prescribe the required form of certificate of aerodrome insurance, which are intended to come into effect at the same time as the obligation on aerodrome owners or operators to have their aerodromes insured under section 10.
The Bill safeguards Exchequer investment in aerodromes against breach of conditions subject to which assistance was given, in section 28; and secures payment of aerodrome etc. charges due, including cost of dealing with abandoned aircraft in section 30. The Minister for Tourism and Transport is enabled to speed-up the decision-making process in relation to airline tariff proposals by allowing him to decide within 14 days or less, rather than after 21 days as at present, section 47; and allows fees to be charged by the Minister for the authorisation of air services by order, in section 46 so as to cover administration costs. Fees are already chargeable for ministerial authorisation of air services otherwise than by order and the Bill will allow recoupment of such costs on a more equitable basis. A total of £10,000 is expected to be recouped for such costs in 1988.
The Bill enables the Minister for Tourism and Transport to control use, etc., of aerodromes, aircraft, etc., for dealing with national or other emergencies, section 20. The State is enabled to ratify a number of Protocols to International Civil Aviation Conventions — Parts III and IV of the Bill.
Part III of the Bill gives effect to four 1975 Protocols to the 1929 Warsaw Convention. The text of the protocols is set out in the First Schedule to the Bill.
The Warsaw Convention, as developed over the years, provides a standardised international code to govern the documents of carriage, and the liability of carriers for loss or damage in the carriage by air of persons and their baggage and cargo. Ireland and over 100 states are party to the convention. The Warsaw Convention was amended by The Hague Protocol in 1955, notably to increase from about £7,500 to about £15,000 the limit — expressed in Poincaré Gold Francs — on a carrier's liability for death or injury to a passenger. The Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1959, gave effect in Irish law to The Hague Protocol.
Growing dissatisfaction with the liability limits of the Warsaw Convention — as expressed in outdated Poincaré Gold Francs — developed in the following decade and culminated in the drawing up of four protocols to the convention in Montreal in 1975. The main purpose of the protocols was to substitute special drawing rights of the International Monetary Fund for Poincaré Gold Francs in the Warsaw Convention, The Hague Protocol, and in the 1971 Guatemala City Protocol. Each of the 1975 protocols must be ratified by 30 states before it can come into force.
The 1971 Guatemala City Protocol provided for an increase in that liability limit to about £90,000 — with provision for increases of about £10,000 in the fifth and tenth years after it comes into force — and allowed States to establish a supplementary fund to provide extra compensation if they wished to do so. This protocol has not yet come into force and, as worded, could only do so when it had been ratified by at least 30 states on the condition that the total international scheduled air traffic of the airlines of five states which have ratified it represents at least 40 per cent of the total international scheduled air traffic of the airlines of the member states of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In effect, this meant that ratification by the United States of America would ordinarily be required to bring the protocol into force. However, the 1975 Montreal Protocol No. 3 expressly provided that its own ratification by a State would automatically mean ratification of the 1971 Guatemala City Protocol. I hope I am making this clear.
I understand that the United States Administration is now moving towards seeking the approval of the US Senate for the four 1975 Montreal Protocols.
Montreal Protocol No. 1 substitutes special drawing rights for Poincaré Gold Francs in the original Warsaw Convention while Montreal Protocol No. 2 makes a similar substitution in the Warsaw Convention as amended by The Hague Protocol. Twenty States — including seven EC States, namely, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom — have already ratified both Montreal Protocols, Nos. 1 and 2.
Montreal Protocol No. 3 substitutes special drawing rights for Poincaré Gold Francs in the Warsaw Convention as amended by both The Hague and Guatemala City Protocols. Eight States — including four EC States, namely, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom — have already ratified Montreal Protocol No. 3.
Montreal Protocol No. 4 relates mainly to the updating of the system for recording carriage of cargo by providing an option for the use of "means" other than an air waybill, prescribed in the Convention as it stands, as a record of the carriage of cargo — if the consignor agrees — to take account of the growing computerisation of the business of carriers and consignors of cargo. The protocol also provides for the substitution of the special drawing rights for Poincaré Gold Francs to express the liability limits for cargo and operates a strict liability system for cargo, with a certain limited number of specified defences open to the carrier.
The defences are: (a) inherent defect, quality or vice of the cargo; (b) defective packaging of the cargo performed by a person other than the carrier or his servants or agents; (c) an act of war or an armed conflict; and (d) an act of public authority carried out in connection with the entry, exit or transit of the cargo. Eleven States — including five EC States, namely Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom — have ratified Montreal Protocol No. 4.
Ireland recognises that there may be outdated elements in the Warsaw Convention but considers that the basic Convention should be upheld and, where possible, improved. The purpose of the Convention is to provide stability in civil air transport worldwide. The advantages of the system are the certainty of the liability limits for air transport in 100 world states. The carriers have definite knowledge as to their insurance requirements, and the passengers and persons sending goods by air have knowledge of the liability limits. Both passengers and senders of goods are also assured of a quicker settlement of claims than by settling through litigation. The possibility of getting 100 states to draw up and adhere to a new Convention on the same subject is very remote. Accordingly, Ireland, in conjunction with most other European states, is committed in principle to upholding and developing the Warsaw Convention.
Ireland has given a commitment at aviation-related international fora that it would initiate steps as soon as possible to ratify the Montreal Protocols. There had been a wait and see attitude to the ratification process for several years throughout Europe in anticipation of ratification by the US. However, as the efforts to ratify by the US Administration did not materialise, most European states decided they would commit themselves to ratification. They hoped that with the assistance of some other world states apart from the US it would be possible to reach the required 30 ratifications and, accordingly, give effect to the Montreal Protocols. Most of the European states are now preparing or have prepared the necessary legislation for ratification. It is essential that Ireland keeps in step. Part III of the Bill provides accordingly.
It should be pointed out that the limit of liability for death or injury to a passenger which all Irish air carriers are required to apply in practice is about £90,000, the same basic limit as is provided in Montreal Protocol No. 3. However, there is obvious need for legislation to copperfasten that limit for all concerned.
Part IV of the Bill is designed to give effect to the 1984 Protocol to the 1944 Chicago Convention. The Chicago Convention established an international code to govern civil aviation and provided for the establishment of the International Civil Aviation Organisation to oversee the implementation and development of the Convention. Ireland has been a contracting state to the Convention since 1946 and has implemented it by orders under the Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1946.
The 1984 Protocol, copies of which have been deposited in the Oireachtas Library, was drawn up and adopted at an extraordinary session of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 1984 following the shooting down by USSR military aircraft of a Korean Airlines 747 in USSR airspace on 1 September 1983. That protocol, which has been fully supported by Ireland, obliges contracting states to the Convention to refrain from the use of weapons against civil aviation in flight but does not prejudice the right of states to shoot down aircraft when acting legitimately in self-defence. Early ratification by Ireland is, therefore, required in order to secure sufficient ratifications — 102 — to bring it into force at an early date. New legislation is required to enable Ireland to ratify the Protocol and Part IV of the Bill provides accordingly. So far, over 30 states — including seven EC States — have ratified that Protocol. The seven EC States are Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain.
In addition to the Warsaw and Chicago Conventions, to which I have just referred, there are three important international conventions, to which Ireland is a contracting party, designed to protect civil aviation against terrorism. The formulation and development of international civil aviation security policy and practice has been a major preoccupation both of individual states and of various international civil aviation organisations, including the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the European Civil Aviation Conference. Ireland, through the Department of Tourism and Transport, participates fully in the activities of these organisations and through them has had an input into the development of current international standards and practices which, I need hardly add, are implemented to the fullest degree at our own airports.
The three Conventions are the Tokyo Convention of 1963, The Hague Convention of 1970 and the Montreal Convention of 1971. Briefly, those Conventions provide a regime of prosecution — or extradition — for acts of violence committed against international civil aviation. Ireland gave legal effect to these Conventions by the Air Navigation and Transport Acts of 1973 and 1975. Ireland has participated actively in the preparation, within the forum of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, of a new international legal instrument which will extend the system of extradition or prosecution under those Conventions to cover unlawful acts of violence at airports serving international civil aviation. This new instrument is expected to be approved by a diplomatic conference of states in early 1988 and we would hope to be bringing forward the necessary legislation for its early ratification thereafter.
In discharging our responsibilities for the security of civil aviation in the State, the Minister for Tourism and Transport and I have available to us the valuable advice and assistance of the National Civil Aviation Security Committee, which operate under our aegis. The committee is chaired by a senior official of our Department and comprises also other representatives of our Department and representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Defence, the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association. The committee advise the Government and the civil aviation industry on aviation security policy.
The committee co-ordinates the various interests involved and are responsible for ensuring that internationally agreed and accepted security measures are implemented at all civil airports in the State. These measures, and their application at each civil airport in the State, are subjected to ongoing review and assessment by the committee whose decisions and recommendations are implemented through my Department. Local security committees, which report to the national committee, operate at each civil airport in the State serving international flights.
The National Civil Aviation Security Committee fully support the early enactment of the Bill before the House to promote the greatest possible security and safety of civil aviation in the State. Early enactment of the Bill — and approval of the three motions before the House — will also enable the State to make up for lost time in ratifying certain protocols to International Civil Aviation Conventions designed to foster civil aviation throughout the world. I, therefore, strongly commend the Bill and related motions to the House.
I am mesmerised between conventions and protocols. The Minister's speech sounded like an annual itinerary of a well travelled county councillor. I note that a value of £90,000 has been put on a life under the liability section. I often wondered whether that should be quantified.
The Minister said that Ireland's air space and airports are as secure and safe as the best in the world. To date our airports have proven to be safe but I wonder if that is more a matter of luck than anything else. When one travels around the world one sees extraordinary precautions at airports and still people contrive to hijack aircraft. I presume the security forces have a plan to put into operation if a hijack occurs here but I do not believe we are very well equipped to handle armed terrorists particularly in the case of a hijacking where hundreds of lives could be at risk. Will the Minister say if he has a special plan prepared to deal with a hijacking or would we, as some other countries do, have to have recourse to forces from other countries to handle the hijacking.
I would draw the Minister's attention to an article which appeared inThe Sunday Press a week or two ago which asserted that military aircraft are constantly flying over this country carrying the most lethal radioactive substances such as plutonium which is more dangerous than uranium. In reply to questions I asked in the Dáil over the past six or seven months I was told that thousands of aircrafts owned by foreign countries are passing over this country and that a number of those foreign countries have nuclear weapons but that we take their word for it as to whether the aircraft contain nuclear weapons or material. To claim that our air space is safe when we do not know what is happening is a bit too Irish. It is most probable that a lot of dangerous material is being carried through our airspace every day but we do not have the means to check up on it. Let us keep our fingers crossed and hope that nothing happens. The Minister could not assure me that we could carry out some check. We just take the word of the people flying over our territory. That is not good enough. We should have more concern than that.
In the preamble I was interested to note the word "aerodrome". I assumed that today they are all called airports. I heard the word "aerodrome" used when I was a child but I thought it disappeared in the last war. It is a bit out of date to use that word now.
The Minister in his statement also refers to the problems we have experienced due to the row between Britain and Spain over the status of the airport in Gibraltar. I am glad that that dispute has apparently been resolved because we will get considerable benefit from the resolution of this problem. There will be much lower air fares to and from European destinations and I hope that we will have a considerable increased influx of tourists from continental Europe. At the moment the high rate of air fares is prohibitive and it must be costing us a considerable number of tourists from mainland Europe.
The Bill is extraordinarily technical. I wonder if it could not have been abbreviated somewhat and if we could have got an explanatory memorandum which could be easily understood in layman's terms. These Protocols and Conventions are extraordinarily difficult to follow. When replying I should like the Minister to refer to the problem of over-flying in order to ascertain whether we can be satisfied that dangerous substances are not being carried. It is not sufficient merely to take people's words on such matters.
At times the position obtaining at our airports is not altogether satisfactory. In his remarks the Minister outlined a whole series of increased and indeed new fines for improper conduct, dangerous practices and even dangerous parking. There is an aspect which is causing the public considerable concern, that is the way in which people who leave an aircraft, particularly at Shannon Airport are dealt with. I raised this by way of parliamentary question on a number of occasions. I am glad to note that, in recent times, greater care is being taken to ensure that people who leave an aircraft, at Shannon Airport in particular, are given every opportunity to prove that theirs is a genuine case, whether it be that they seek political asylum or permission to travel on to a western democracy, whether the United States or some other western European country. The position has improved somewhat but we cannot be too vigilant in that regard.
Now that Shannon Airport is being used by a number of airlines transporting people to and from countries where there are severe régimes in operation, Shannon has become a flashpoint at which — I will not call them illegal emigrants, because that is not their proper description — people seek sanctuary. Over the years I have been extremely disturbed in this respect because it was my belief that a number of people were put back on aircraft and returned to their native countries and they may well have suffered some terrible consequences. I do believe — and there is plenty of evidence to confirm this belief — that the position has improved considerably. We have had people such as Cubans, Afghans and even, on occasion Russians and Bulgarians, seeking refuge. It is very important that such people who fear for their lives if returned to their countries should be given every facility to remain here or move onto another democracy if it can be proven they are totally genuine. For a long time I had a very strong suspicion that some cases were not being given the requisite attention and that there may well have been some terrible mistakes made as a consequence.
The terms of this Bill cover also safety at our airports. The provisions of the Bill refer to the need for security and safety at our three State airports. I am not satisfied there are sufficient checks on goods and materials coming into this country. I am making a statement here I believe to be quite true, that is, that the recent spate of cutbacks has actually reduced the amount of surveillance and checking on passenger and cargo goods coming into this country. There is an alarming prospect that large quantities not just of arms but also of drugs are being moved through out State airports because of a lessening in the amount of surveillance there. I know from having spoken to people working in that service they are not carrying out checks to the same extent as obtained previously. I have heard the Minister for Finance say that is not so but I must say I do not accept that.
I have seen statements in the national papers by an association representing Customs and Excise officials clearly indicating that there have been cutbacks which are affecting the amount of time being devoted to searches and observation of goods coming into the country. If those assertions are true, and I believe they are, then that is an extremely serious matter. The Ministers for Finance and Justice, and for that matter all of us, should be extremely concerned lest such cutbacks jeopardise the position obtaining at points of entry to the country, such as airports. From time to time it has been said that Ireland was being used as a trans-shipment area for the movement of drugs on the world market. It would be frightful to think our country was being used not just to bring in drugs here for promotion within the country but also as a trans-shipment area because our checks were less stringent than those obtaining elsewhere.
We have spoken already, on the motion before the House, about the good performance of Aer Rianta and their excellent financial position in recent years. We have spoken about the necessity for more deregulation, greater access and cheaper air fares. In this regard the motion and the Bill overlap, something to which the Minister referred quite extensively in the course of his remarks.
I spoke at considerable length on the need for a fares structure in keeping with reality. In particular I was critical of the Aer Lingus performance before deregulation came into being, before independent airlines were licensed. It was interesting to see the Taoiseach have a swipe at the national airline the other day for not taking into account when structuring their air fares the position created because of the weakening of the American dollar. Surely there should be a downward movement in air fares between this country and the United States when the dollar has weakened so considerably? I would not like to think that people would use a financial change such as that to help themselves to greater profits. The profits should be passed on to the consumer to ensure that the traveller gets his airfare at a correspondingly cheaper price. I wonder if the air companies operating on the North Atlantic route have reduced their airfares as a result of the favourable terms that apply, as far as we are concerned,vis-à-vis the dollar.
Deputy O'Malley referred to the advent of the Russian national airline, Aeroflot, to Shannon and the amount of money it generates in that general area. I have heard the figure of £5 million mentioned. That airline is proving to be of considerable benefit to Shannon Airport and to the surrounding areas. Not alone are Aer Rianta doing well in Shannon as a result of that and other airlines operating in and out of the airport but there has been a suggestion that Aer Rianta are now going to operate from Moscow Airport and are going to show the Russians how to run a duty free enterprise in that airport. That would be interesting.
The Minister said there is in existence a National Civil Aviation Security Committee who have studied all the various conventions and protocols that are mentioned in this Bill and that that committee are made up of representatives of a whole series of Departments together with representatives of the main airline companies, Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta. The committee fully endorse what the Bill sets out to do, to improve safety at our State airports. That endorsement alone is a good reason for passing the Bill.
One aspect of this matter that has been referred to from time to time and which gives rise to great emotion, unnecessarily so, is our position with regard to neutrality. We have one of the most strategic geographical locations in the world. We are on the periphery of Western Europe. We are the country which is the furthest west in Europe and which is most adjacent to the United States. That area is part of a general area in the northern hemisphere which is served by an organisation known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, better known as NATO. Whenever mention is made of Ireland joining NATO there is an immediate outcry from certain sections in this country, sections that I do not believe constitute a majority but rather a vociferous minority. We tend to think that as Irish people we are a chosen race, that we can live in isolation without reference to anybody else and without an obligation to anybody else. We think we can take from everybody and everything, whether an organisation or an individual country, and that we do not have to give anything in return. I do not agree with that philosophy. There is a need for the Irish people to show themselves to be bigger than that, to be generous, to be willing to co-operate and above all to be willing to play their part in world politics, in particular European politics. There are three State airports in this country which could be of tremendous benefit to NATO.
Deputy Deasy is normally very much in order in his contributions but taking him at his own word in respect of how emotive an issue NATO is, I hope he does not propose to develop at any great length the merits or demerits of membership of such an organisation, especially under the legislation before us.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, could you not keep quiet; I thought we were about to join.
We could join under other legislation, Deputy O'Malley, but not under this legislation.
Does the Deputy mean the Progressive Democrats were going to join Fine Gael?
No, I was talking about Ireland joining NATO.
We are speaking about our civil airports and that is the whole basis of the Bill.
Those airports serve a very important purpose and I am saying they could serve an even more important purpose.
Deputy Deasy appreciates that in respect of Second Stage he is entitled to range at great length but unless he is about to indicate that the legislation could suitably have provision for the matter he is discusing he would not be entirely in order.
I was going to suggest that we pay for the legislation also. There is an opportunity for a vast amount of money to be pumped into the economy of this State at a time when we are experiencing severe financial difficulties but financial problems should not be our only consideration. We have a duty to our partners in Europe, whether in the EC or elsewhere, and to other countries throughout the world to see to it that we play our part in ensuring that security in this part of the hemisphere is maintained. The point I was making is that up to now we seemed to glorify in the belief that we could live in total isolation, a rather stupid attitude. The time has come when we must take into account financial considerations and our obligations to other countries which are of tremendous assistance to us, whether within the EC or not. We have a moral obligation to see to it that we help those who help us. In the process we could solve a lot of our financial problems, I would point to the situation of Spain and Greece who have individually obtained something like £1 billion a year for allowing NATO bases in their countries. We have severe financial problems and will have to suffer those problems not just for two or three years but for a long time because of the enormity of the national debt.
The time has come to give serious consideration to ways of solving the problem which will actually relieve hardship in the country. People may attempt to fob it off by saying we should not interfere with our neutrality. There comes a time when one cannot afford to be totally independent particularly when one is in very dire financial straits such as those we find ourselves in at the moment. It is time to consider how our strategic geographical position might be used to the best advantage. There is a case to be considered. On this I am expressing a personal view which has been expressed by one or two members of my party previously. It is a valid view and should not be dismissed. We have a vociferous minority who decry anything that could solve our financial problems or allow us to co-operate with other countries but there is quite likely a considerable majority who are prepared to co-operate, particularly if it helps to engender more goodwill throughout the northern hemisphere and also to partially solve the dreadful financial problems that confront us.
It is rather interesting that our strategic importance has increased considerably in recent weeks, in my view, as a result of talks between the Soviet Union and the US which, it appears, will lead to a bilateral nuclear disarmament policy so that if there were a war — and hopefully there will not be — we would be talking again in terms of conventional weapons. Our location in such a situation would be of considerable benefit. We should not be afraid to exploit that. We are extremely foolish not to consider the benefits that would accrue from membership of NATO and the use of our State airports and other airports.
Is it the Foreign Affairs Estimate or the Defence Estimate we are talking about?
We have a national debt of about £25 billion and a so-called policy on the part of Deputy O'Malley's party which would lead to an income tax rate of 25 per cent. I wish he could tell us how in the circumstances we will ever get to 25 per cent, because I do not think it is an attainable figure. Perhaps he has got some brilliant ideas. If he has, he did not outline them prior to the last general election.
I am sorry to disappoint the Deputy, but he will not be allowed to do it on the Air Navigation and Transport Bill.
We have these State airports and other airports which could be used with considerable benefit to the economy in straightforward cash deals and also in the provision of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of extra jobs. This cannot easily be dismissed. Membership of any grouping which would benefit this country should not be lightly ignored. It is well worth considering.
This Bill has already gone through the Seanad. There was a general consensus in the Seanad that this would benefit the country but in reality I do not see that the provisions of the Bill mean a lot unless we have some control over civil or military aviation which is constantly passing through our air space. We supposedly have control but I have never seen any evidence of that control being exercised. I asked several Ministers previously if they could tell me how they check this traffic and invariably I have been told that there is no practical way of doing it. Basically, the assertion that we are promoting the greatest possible security and safety of civil aviation is only rhetoric. It means nothing unless we know what is actually happening in the skies above us.
We will not be opposing the Bill but I certainly have reservations about our ability to police it and know what is happening around us.
I have no objection whatever to the Bill and I would welcome its passage but I want to make some comments on a few matters that seem to arise from it and from the debate on it.
One of the major features of aviation nowadays that contributes to safety in the air is air traffic control and radio communication with aircraft in flight. We have in this country part of the control of the eastern Atlantic flight area as part of what is called the Shanwick area which is jointly administered by Prestwick in Scotland and by Shannon Airport in Ireland. This system has operated pretty satisfactorily for a long number of years now. One would wish that perhaps a greater part of it was operated in Shannon rather than in Prestwick. Nonetheless it has operated satisfactorily.
Then, suddenly in August of this year the system at the Irish end began to break down. There was no longer full coverage, in particular radio coverage, especially of weather information, being provided from Shannon, or specifically from Ballygirreen radio station near Shannon, to aircraft in the eastern Atlantic. This is the first time, since the Shanwick system was established, that that proved to be the case. I got complaints about it from people who were concerned with the situation and what the long-term implications would be. A month or so ago I put down a question in the House on it relating to the month of August because I had been given specific information about August and I thought that it might perhaps have related to the holiday period and things like that. I was amazed at the reply I got. Apparently this system from Ballygirreen was off the air on 34 occasions during the month of August according to the information given to me by the Minister for Communications.
This is not some allegation by me or by some disaffected person who is involved; this is the official information given in the House. I put down the question about six weeks before it was answered, as one often has to do nowadays unfortunately, and made the error of not including the months of September and October. On checking with the people concerned, I was told that the situation was appalling in August but that the position at Ballygirreen and Shannon was much worse in September and October and if the figure was 34 times off the air in August, it must have been many times that in the succeeding months. I understand that the position is still as bad as ever and is deteriorating.
The failure of the Irish authorities to fulfil their obligations in regard to information to aricraft in the eastern Atlantic arises from the understanding of the different facilities at Ballygirreen and at Shannon. I was informed by the Minister that this is due to the general embargo, cutbacks and the rest, on public service posts. This is bureaucracy at its worst. Simply because the people concerned are civil servants or public servants of some description, it is assumed that one is as entitled to reduce the numbers there and the service they provide as anywhere else and that in doing this one is somehow benefiting the Irish Exchequer. Of course, that is totally erroneous. This service to aircraft operators is not costing the Irish Exchequer anything; it is fully recouped from the people who use the service. Still these people are let go and air safety is put at some risk and the possibility of this system being retained in Ireland is also put at some risk. If the Department of Communications here are not in a position to provide a service, why should it continue to be provided from Ireland? It is too important a matter to get haphazard treatment depending on whether there are sufficient people on duty at a particular time. It could quite conveniently be removed to Prestwick or somewhere else in Britain or Northern Ireland, which would be a very great pity indeed.
This is typical of the bureaucratic thinking involved, that people like these who are operating air traffic controls and radio services in County Clare should be let go as if they were expendable and the myriads of bureaucrats who are providing no actual service to the public and in respect of whom no payment is made by any part of the public are retained and maintained without a thought. If we must have reduction in numbers, it should not be with regard to people who are not costing the Exchequer anything. That would seem to be self-evident but the bureaucratic system here does not seem to be able to cope with that rather simple proposition. It is these people who are costless and free to the Exchequer and the taxpayers who are let go, but those who are very expensive on the Exchequer within the Department concerned are retained. This matter should be properly dealt with by the Minister for Communications. What is happening now in this or in any other like area should be looked at and rectified without delay, because nothing is achieved by reducing those numbers.
The Minister of State in his speech on this Bill and the various attached protocols reopened some of the matters which we debated this morning on the motion relating to Aer Rianta. He made some fairly provocative statements in the course of that speech. I often wonder why these people make such statements, which they know perfectly well are totally untrue. There is a delightful example, that the Government's programme "will continue the Government's vigorous drive to reduce access costs." I remember when I was preaching the necessity to reduce access costs here in 1984 and 1985 what opposition and derision I received. I was told that it was crazy to think that we could have lower costs and that it would be very damaging to the Irish national interest if access costs to this country were any lower. How official policy can turn itself on its head in two years I find quite interesting.
The Minister goes on to say:
The reductions secured by the Government in 1987 — and only in operation since May — have already greatly boosted the number of tourists coming to Ireland and should of themselves enhance prospects for 1988.
What has happened since May of 1987 is of little significance. The Minister of State himself gave me the figures for the increases from 1985 to 1987 and they are away above what I forecast in 1984. The increase in our passenger traffic coming in here in the two years is 35 per cent, on his own figure. That is more than a onethird increase, where in the previous ten years we were almost at a standstill in terms of numbers of air passengers.
Which shows how good the initiatives were.
The advice that I gave here, which was voted down so heavily, was finally accepted and put into effect.
It is important to reiterate that the one area, in particular, where this policy has not yet been implemented is as between Ireland and continental Europe. If this matter is not resolved at the Council meeting on Monday and immediately implemented following that, then the Government should take steps either directly themselves or by suggestion to Commissioner Sutherland, to ensure that proceedings which he has already threatened against Aer Lingus and other cartel airlines in Europe are gone on with and that Aer Lingus are prosecuted for their disgraceful conduct in seeking to maintain an illegal cartel in relation to airline fares and operations as between here and the Continent of Europe.
The increase that we have seen from the UK in the last two years has been so enormous that one could confidently look forward to at least the same proportionate increase from Europe if the same steps are taken in relation to European routes as have been taken in relation to UK routes. There is a crazy situation at present—and I hope it is now coming to an end as a result of the resolution of the broader disputes — that Ryanair flights, for example, from Cork to Luton have to land in Dublin and if they were to operate from Shannon they would also have to do the same, even though they want to fly direct. This is an aspect of the craziness of bureaucracy which still to some extent afflicts the whole question of air transport policy in this country and in Europe generally.
Like Deputy Deasy and others, I am very worried about overflying. Unfortunately, this was not mentioned at all by the Minister of State in the lengthy speech which he made introducing this Bill. He does make the statement that Ireland's air space is as secure and safe as the best in the world. Unhappily for us all, that statement is not true. It is one of these bland statements that are made. One need only recall what happened a few weeks ago, an unfortunate incident which happened over England in which a test pilot testing a Harrier jump jet recently built was ejected involuntarily from the cockpit, fell to the ground without a parachute in Wiltshire and died. His plane flew on, was monitored by British and American fighters and finally crashed into the sea some distance to the south east of Ireland. If that plane had crashed on an Irish city, there could have been very serious consequences indeed.
The number of overflights is huge. I do not think that we even claim that we monitor them. There is not much we can do in trying to cope with those which are not permitted by us. In reply the Minister of State should make a full statement on the position. Successive Governments have never been very open about this matter and it is one of constant concern. I am not suggesting that Irish air space should be closed off to every military flight but we need to get much better information than we have received up to now on the overflights which are taking place and on the extent to which the Government are satisfied that they are aware of all of them.
Many of these flights take place at altitudes of between 60,000 feet and 80,000 feet. Does our radar system allow us to even identify the existence of such flights? What views do the Government hold in regard to them and the dangers they pose if there were to be an accident? There have been reports of near collisions between some of these military aircraft over this country. If there were to be a collision the outcome would be calamitous not alone for the crews of the planes but also for many other people.
One of the intentions of the Bill is to amend section 3 of the Air Transport Act, 1986 which was introduced initially as the Air Transport Bill, 1984. It is proposed in section 47 to shorten the period in which a decision has to be given by the Minister on a tariff application. I have no objection to that. It proposes to shorten the period to 14 days or such lesser period as the Minister may prescribe by order. It is not proposed to amend the maximum period. My recollection of that Act is that there is no maximum period and that often these applications are left to lie there for between six months and 12 months. That is a matter which may be looked at.
As I have said, I have no objection to these provisions. Perhaps, some of them may not be easy to enforce given our resources but it is right that this country should ratify the various conventions which are listed and should continue to play its part in controlling the safety of air traffic and air transport. It is interesting to note that under some of the Conventions we are discussing today there is an elaborate extradition system whereby people who commit offences in or in relation to aircraft have to be rapidly extradited. I do not think I will reopen that debate now after the useless and futile four day debate we have had but I should say in passing that it is only perfectly proper in respect of terrorist type offences in regard to aircraft as in respect of all other types of terrorist offences a political defence should not be available as indeed is the case under these conventions.
As the Minister of State's speech indicated, this Bill has two main purposes, the first of which is to promote the greatest possible security and safety of civil aviation in the State. All of us must be in favour of that purpose. Its second purpose is to enable the State to meet its international obligations by ratifying a number of protocols to international civil aviation conventions. Again, we find ourselves in total agreement with this purpose of the Bill. As we are in agreement with the Bill there is no possibility that there will be any objection to it passing either this or subsequent Stages. Nevertheless, I would like to make a few brief points and I can be brief for two reasons.
The first reason is that this Bill has already been debated in the Seanad where many of the arguments which we could raise here were raised and dealt with. Therefore, I do not see any real purpose in rehashing in this House, any of the arguments which have already been made in the Seanad. The second reason is that any of the points which may be raised in relation to the technical aspects of this Bill can be raised on Committee Stage.
As I have said, we are all in agreement with the terms of this Bill. Safety and security are of paramount importance to us all and we must pay glowing tribute to the performance in this area by our aircraft authorities, to the Ministry and to all those connected with our great safety record. Having said that, there is always a need to continually look at our security and safety arrangements and to update them where necessary. Therefore, to a great extent this Bill will ensure that that will be done. This is a technical Bill which makes it difficult to deal with the principle contained in it. Perhaps, then it is better to look at the individual sections which catch our attention. I would also like to comment very briefly on some of the comments made by the Minister of State.
Section 10 deals with insurance and requires all aerodromes to obtain public liability insurance while open to air traffic. Although it is the technical term, the word "aerodrome" seems to be a little archaic and ancient. Nowadays we prefer to refer to the word "airport" rather than to the word "aerodrome" which conjures up images of Biggles and of Nissen huts. We have now several modern airports in this country and they are very different from the old aerodrome concept.
We are all aware about the need for insurance, of the strictures which we have to bear in regard to insurance for cars and how tightly drawn they are. This Bill is simply catching up with what has been the practice there. The Warsaw, Guatemala and Montreal Protocols listed at the end of the Bill suggest that a great deal of time has been spent in many exotic places dealing with a very simple concept of insurance and at the end of the day the level of insurance and the value put on a life, on which many speakers have commented, seems in this day and age very small at £90,000. It has taken so long for these Protocols to be discussed and agreed on that the figures in them are outof-date. Can we imagine anybody today taking out life insurance and regarding his commitments, goods and so on to be worth in the region of £90,000? He may have a mortgage on a house and if he is the breadwinner and is killed in a crash and leaves no other insurance £90,000 would in no way cover the commitments and the problems he would leave after him for his family to deal with. Therefore, when the Minister gets the next opportunity to participate in one of these international discussions he will want to update that one.
A very big trade goes on at every airport by private companies selling insurance or assurance to travellers. This demonstrates that whatever liability aircraft companies carry for their passengers is insignificant. In many cases anybody contemplating even a short visit abroad for holiday or any other purpose and flying to his destination will automatically take out special insurance not simply against problems that may occur while he is abroad but for any likelihood of an accident occurring during his flight or in the airports he visits. Maybe we have got it wrong but I do not think so. That figure is totally inadequate and the Minister should make whatever effort he can to have a proper assessment made. I do not think he will need a review body on higher pay for the Judiciary, the Civil Service or politicians to look at that.
Sections 11 and 17 of the Bill deal with carrying dangerous articles in aerodromes, on aircraft etc. and refer to guns, explosive materials and the like. Safety and security measures at airports in the last ten or 15 years go a long way to prevent people carrying that type of material on board aircraft but unfortunately it can be and is done. Somebody who is determined to bring this type of material on board unfortunately seems to be able to get around the various safety devices placed at all airports. Of course, 99.99 per cent of people travelling have no intention of hijacking aeroplanes and so on but security measures must be in place and the heavy cost involved has to be endured because, unfortunately, the 0.01 per cent or less people travelling have other ideas when they go on planes.
Only in the past week we have heard suggestions that two very large aircraft which crashed may have done so as a result of somebody carrying explosive material on board. That may or may not be so but it has been put forward as one likely reason for the crashes either in the Indian Ocean or the Middle East. We recall with a great deal of sadness the crash just outside Ireland of the Indian plane from Canada with a loss of all on board. That crash was proved to have been the result of an explosion on board that plane. Great credit is due to the Irish airport personnel, the medical staff and the lifeboat crews in the south, the area of the Minister of State, for the work they did then. This sad event demonstrated the high standard maintained by the people involved in the area of airport safety and surveillance in their efforts to get to the bottom of what happened in that explosion.
Safety and security are paramount and we must all be vigilant. When security measures are put in place and nothing happens for a long time people are inclined to become a little lax; then something happens which shows up the weaknesses of some of the security aspects. Therefore, we welcome the Bill in this respect. It will give a new impetus to ensure that our safety standards are maintained at the very high level we are aware exists at present.
I mention with some trepidation the carriage of duty-free goods on aircraft. Of course these are not explosive materials but between now and Christmas most aircraft coming into and going out of this country will be fairly heavily loaded with duty-free goods, mainly in bottles. This suggestion may seem strange, but it seems odd that one loads up in an airport, puts all the material on a plane, is sold duty-free goods on the plane, walks past the duty free area at the airport at the other end and into a car or on to a bus or whatever. Could some arrangement not be made for passengers to pick up duty free goods at the other end rather than lugging them over on an aircraft, adding to the cost of flying a plane? We are told that if you fly 1 lb. of sugar back and forth across the Atlantic it cost something like £20.
"Say it with flowers".
If you carried two litres of whiskey or brandy it might be better to do as I suggest. I am not opposed to the duty-free arrangements. I have used them in the past on many occasions but it has always struck me as strange that you walk through a duty-free area on the way out and then another when you arrive at your destination but you must carry the goods on the plane. I am sure I will get an adequate reply from the Minister if he wants to argue that we need to bring Irish goods abroad, but surely an arrangement could be made to have an Irish section in the main terminals into which we fly such as New York or London rather than bringing the goods out on short hauls to Europe and so on with many people bringing out their duty-free goods and then bringing them back again. I do not know whether the Bill covers such goods. I hope they are not regarded as explosives or dangerous articles. I ask the Minister to assure us they are not and that there is no real danger in carrying such material back and forward.
Section 23 deals with the placing of refuse dumps. Coming from Wicklow and having had a discussion recently about refuse dumps in my area I know how some people who never have to go near an aeroplane feel about having a refuse dump near them. I can well accept the dangers of having refuse dumps near airports. During the past year there was an incident where birds from a refuse dump got into the engines of a plane which was flying to London. I will not mention the well known personality who was on that plane but there were many other people on board whose lives were equally precious to their next of kin.
In the main, refuse dumps are within the control of local authorities. One thing which upsets me is when a public company gets involved with another State company or a local authority in order to sort out the difficulties between them. Local authorities who operate dumps within a reasonable distance of an airport should have special arrangements made for them and I hope that this Bill will ensure that this will be the case. The practice nowadays is to fill open cast type dumps with land fill. I hope that most of the dumps in this country are open cast ones. If the dumps were covered daily by whatever kind of fill is handy to the location of the dump this would eliminate many of the problems of scavenging by birds and other animals in the area. No dump should be located in close proximity to a major airport. This raises the problem of where dumps should be located. In dealing with the arrangements for safety it is not enough for the local authority to see that their arrangements are up to the highest standard. It should also be necessary for the airport authorities to ensure that their personnel visit those sites regularly so as to ensure that the work is being carried out to their satisfaction and not just to the satisfaction of the local authority.
The over-booking of aircraft is not dealt with by the Bill but nevertheless I think it can be mentioned under the sections of the Bill which deal with insurance. I am referring in particular to the over-booking of charter flights which are usually used for holidays. These flights are generally charged at a cheaper rate and are booked in cut-price trade areas. Over-booking does take place and this is only found out when passengers arrive at the airports. Another problem for passengers is when mechanical difficulties occur in an aircraft and they are left stranded at an airport. A Bill of this nature should be all-embracing and try to eliminate as far as possible the difficulties and annoyances that are experienced by air passengers irrespective of what their business is or where they are flying to. There are repeated difficulties every year in this respect. Passengers can be left at airports not simply for a day or two but for days on end in conditions that they do not expect. Many of them do not have enough money with them so they cannot stay in comfort while they await the arrival of a new aircraft. I hope the Minister can look at that. I know that it does not apply in relation to this Bill but it is a part of air navigation. If we are taking the opportunity of introducing new structures for the industry perhaps it would be useful to consider this aspect of it as well.
I too am concerned about the overflying of this country by the military aircraft of foreign powers. The ordinary public and many of us in this House do not know what the level of this overflying is. There is a growing concern among the public that this is happening. We should know if our airspace is being used by the military aircraft of foreign powers. It is imperative that we should be told if our airspace is being used by aircraft carrying nuclear payloads. I hope the Minister can assure us that this is not happening. This country is not part of any military block such as NATO and has expressed itself to be a neutral country for many years. Therefore, we should be in command of the information about whether or not our airspace is being used by foreign powers and whether those overflights carry nuclear payloads. We are situated between two large military power blocks and we have a right to know if this is happening. If it is happening, action should be taken to ensure that it does not continue. We are members of the United Nations and other international bodies and we should be able to make our case and be able to assure the public that this will not happen in any event.
As Deputy O'Malley said during the course of a discussion we had earlier this morning, all sides of the House seem to be taking credit for cheaper air fares. Last year when I was Minister for Tourism I attended a seminar in Bray called "Tourism 2000" which was sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. Speakers at that seminar dealt with access air fares and tourism. They agreed that air fares were too high and that the greatest enemy to an expansion of tourism was the very high level of access fares. Resulting from that seminar and in my capaicty as Minister, I instituted a review of the tourism area and commissioned a Price Waterhouse report on it. That report did not come back to me; they reported to the present Minister. It is a funny thing that having commissioned that report I never got a copy of it from either the Department or from Price Waterhouse. I have received a summary of the report but I would like to have been given the full report. I was interested to see that many matters we considered necessary were referred to in it. I was pleased to note that the fears we expressed about the tourist industry were commented on in it.
I am happy to be able to say that through that report the Minister has an opportunity to formulate a long term tourist policy. I am glad that in the next five years the House will be asked to introduce legislation to implement various aspects of that report. It is pleasing to note that we initiated that process. The increase in the number of tourists this year was due in no small measure to the action by the Minister responsible for tourism in the last Administration. We are all aware that people around Christmas time request literature from travel agents and reach a decision about their summer holidays. The various holiday resorts carry on intensive advertising campaigns over the Christmas period. In that regard I was disappointed to hear that the promotion budget of Bord Fáilte was cut drastically this year.
Another reason for the big increase in the number of tourists coming here was the decision to permit new carriers from the United States. One part of the United States which offers great potential is the south east. About 40 million people live in that region and they do not regard Ireland as a holiday destination. Delta are the main carriers in that area. I was surprised when I visited that area to discover how many Irish Americans live there. I hope the Minister will continue the work I initiated in that area and encourage more people to visit Ireland. How many Members are aware that the second largest St. Patrick's Day Parade in the world takes place in Savannah in Georgia but I do not think any Irish Minister ever took part in it.
Is the Deputy suggesting that Deputy Lyons should travel to it?
The Minister should consider visiting that area next March. It is important that there should be Irish representatives at that parade. Many Ministers, and other Government representatives, head for New York for the annual parade in that city but Savannah at that time of the year would be a more pleasant place to visit. I suggest the Minister of State should, if nothing else happens between now and 17 March, find time to participate in that parade and promote Irish tourism in the region.
We will not have a Government in exile next March, like in previous years.
I should like to remind the Minister of State that promotional visits are very hard work. I have gone on many such visits, accompanied by those involved in the tourist industry, and they were no fun. We had to meet many deadlines and ensure that we got our say on the national airwaves at a time when people were considering holiday destinations. I am sure the Minister will agree that next year it will be more difficult to attract Americans to this country not because of problems like Libya, which we experienced in 1986, but because of the drop in the value of the dollar. Americans always budget on spending a certain amount on their holidays. Promotion in the coming months in the US will be very important and that is why I have expressed concern at the decision to reduce the budget for promotion work.
It is important that we play our part in world aviation to ensure that everything connected with air transport is as safe as possible. It is not enough to work for safer air travel, we must ensure that our airports are safe. It is important that we have an input at international conferences on safety and demand the same level of safety at other airports as we have in our own. The protocols before us are acceptable to the Labour Party but I hope that something is done about the insurance inadequacy in one of them. We all accept that the Bill is essential for the safety of those who use our airports and travel on our airline. We support the Bill and I hope the Minister will reply to my questions.
The Bill deals with one of the most important problems that Irish society face in regard to air transport in that it concentrates on the security and safety of passengers. Since the country's major international airport is situated in my constituency it is only right that I should have a special interest in the provisions in the Bill. Most of the security proposals dealt with in it have been implemented. I am referring in particular to arrangements in regard to car parks and so on. At Shannon Airport management have taken steps to ensure that there is little likelihood of a car bomb causing damage to the buildings. I should like to pay tribute to the airport personnel at Shannon, Cork and Dublin who do good work on behalf of the State whether as police officers, immigration officers or in management. It is a tribute to Aer Rianta that industrial relations in that company are the best of all State companies.
Under the last Government a lot of progress was made in regard to worker participation in the management of Aer Rianta and I hope the Minister will continue with that. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that worker directors are appointed to Aer Rianta. The conditions of employment, and the services being provided by Aer Rianta, were examined by a departmental committee established by the former Minister, Deputy Jim Mitchell. That committee investigated the air navigation office and a number of other services. It is my understanding that the far-reaching proposals put forward by that committee are the subject of discussions between staff representatives and officials of the Department. As the representative for the area, I felt more emphasis should be placed on Shannon as the major international airport because it is the only airport which takes west bound traffic.
I understand the committee propose the setting up of a services office staffed by engineers, with expertise in this area. I would like this office to be located in Shannon, and perhaps when the Minister examines this proposal he will consider the feasibility of my suggestion. Most of the personnel required for this office are already settled in the Shannon area. From that point of view it would be advantageous for the Department to locate the headquarters there. The distance between Kildare Street and Shannon is no longer an obstacle because we have a very up-to-date communications network — FAX, the telephone and so on. Because our communications system is so up to date, I do not believe locating this office in Shannon would detract from the proposal in any way. As I said, I hope the Minister will look at this suggestion favourably.
I was interested to hear Deputy O'Malley talk about the air navigation services provided at Ballygirreen. This international service is moving ahead very rapidly, but because of the embargo, I believe the service is suffering. I urge the Minister to consider the semi-privatisation of the Ballygirreen service. As other Deputies have outlined, a profit is being made by this 24 hour service which is available to all the aircraft which cross the Atlantic. The expansion of this service will depend on the use of satellites. If we had a semi-State body negotiating satellite positions for the air navigation service at Ballygirreen, the future employment of the personnel involved would be assured.
I want to deal now with the immigration procedures at airports. In recent times there were problems at Shannon involving a Sikh and a group of Iranians. They arrived over a weekend and the people who were looking for information about them ran into difficulty when they tried to get in touch with somebody in the Department of Justice. Problems have arisen at Shannon from time to time mainly because of lack of translators. I believe the Department have made considerable progress in this area and they now have a line to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in London. Difficulties can also arise if the airport staff do not provide access to telephones or an area where the immigration section can deal with these people. Perhaps the Department would ask Aer Rianta to have another look at this to see if anything can be done.
My colleague, Deputy Deasy, put forward his personal view for an expansion of business at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports——
What about Knock?
I hope the late Monsignor Horan is praying for that.
It showed a profit last year.
Deputy Mitchell will deal with that matter. I am not about to knock another western institution. I like to keep my western institution in front of the House and that is why I am appealing for greater flexibility between Aer Rianta and the Department of Justice when it comes to immigration at our international airport.
In Shannon we have a new arrangement with Aeroflot. The former Minister agreed to purchase Russian fuel on a barter system and since then trade has grown. I support Deputy Deasy's view that there would be greater utilisation of our international airports if we could increase our percentage of the number of flights across the Atlantic. As has been pointed out, we are very strategically placed but less than 10 per cent of the traffic crossing the Atlantic calls into Shannon. This must give rise to some questions about our ability to attract transit traffic. Deputy Deasy suggested making an arrangement with NATO. Maybe it is possible to do something along those lines under the peace initiative Minister Wilson is talking about when he says Shannon will become an international peace centre. Maybe we could have NATO aircraft as well as Russian aircraft refuelling and loading at Shannon, but some revolutionary proposal has to be put forward to help the growth of transit traffic at our airport and to maintain employment and, we would hope, even increase employment there.
Deputy O'Malley is quite close to Shannon Airport, as I am, and knows a lot about it. He expressed concern about southern access to continental Europe, but I am very concerned about southern access to Britain. I am very disappointed that the deregulation of air fares has not yet been put in place for Shannon to London. While we are grateful to Aer Lingus and British Airways for introducing new flights, why has the Minister delayed so long in granting a licence to Ryanair, Virgin Airlines or any other company which wants to fly from Shannon to London or Luton? What is the reason for the delay? It is important from the tourist point of view that there be greater access to Shannon and the midwest. I appeal to the Minister to encourage his officials and the British authorities to reach agreement on this question quickly and to bring about a reduction in fares.
Earlier today reference was made to runways at Shannon Airport. As far as this Bill is concerned, this is another area where control is exercised by Aer Rianta and the Government. In Shannon there has been a lobby for many years for an additional runway to improve the prospect of getting, say, Concorde to call regularly on the flight from Europe to South America. Substantial additional business could be generated if we had an additional runway facility but, under the present financial constraints, I suppose this is only a dream. I hope the Department will put forward proposals for this runway so that we will have the runway extension at the earliest possible opportunity.
As I said, the main purpose of the Bill is to increase the security and safety of civil aviation. Most of the provisions outlined in the explanatory memorandum are in place and the Bill is merely giving effect to them. However, we need another Bill to give effect to the Price Waterhouse report commissioned by the Department.
If Knock Airport are making a profit it reflects very well on the system of management. I wish them luck but I do not envy them the growth of traffic.
I am very concerned about maintaining Shannon Airport as the sole transatlantic airport and I hope the Minister will refer to this in his reply.
I welcome the Bill which was substantially prepared during my time as Minister for Communications. To a large degree it deals with the safety and security of aviation and, therefore, it is of vital interest to us as an island country which is so dependent on air communications for trade and tourism with the rest of the world.
The Bill gives us an opportunity to talk about the wider area of aviation policy in general. It is very important because safety and security of air transport grow in importance as the numbers of people travelling by air grow. I am glad I was the Minister who initiated the policy which caused the great and continuing growth in air travel. Of course, the increase in air travel is not just in and out of this country, it is happening in other parts of the world. However, terrorism is also increasing and when I was Minister we had to deal with a very traumatic disaster, the Air India crash off the coast of west Cork in 1985. We also had two recent air disasters, one involving a South African aircraft and another involving a South Korean aircraft. There are suggestions, at least in the latter case that, like the Air India disaster, it may have been caused by an act of terrorism. Fortunately, although the Air India disaster took place near our shores, it had just bypassed our air space.
The safety and security standards of Irish aviation have been consistently high. I know it is the intention of the Minister to continue the policies of his predecessors in ensuring that that very high level of safety and security is maintained. In that, I have no doubt he enjoys the unanimous support of the House. This, of course, falls into a number of categories and it cannot be divorced from all the cutbacks in the public service.
I hope that whatever reorganisation will take place in the air navigation services office will not be dictated by the exigencies of public finances. I am not against reorganisation to reduce costs and improve efficiency — I am very much in favour of that — and the review which I commissioned from Price Waterhouse had that in mind. I hope the reorganisation proposed by Price Waterhouse will not be used as an excuse for further economies in order to reduce public finances. I have little doubt that the Minister would not jeopardise safety or security for financial reasons but it is no harm to have his determination strongly reinforced on this side of the House. Nor should danger of the reorganisation of the air navigation services office be put off by the possible misinterpretation of what the Minister is doing because it is very clear from the Price Waterhouse report — which has not been published but to which, of course, I had access — that there is a major need for reorganisation in that entire area.
Much of this becomes all the more important and urgent because of the increase in the numbers of people travelling by air. This recalls the Committee Stage debate on the Air Transport Act, 1985, on 1 and 22 May 1985. Deputy Desmond O'Malley spoke twice today on matters pertaining to aviation, once on the guarantees for the extension of the runway at Dublin Airport which I was happy to initiate and approve—and later on this Bill. However, he did not support the Air Transport Bill; otherwise it enjoyed the total support of this House. He predicted it would lead to higher air fares and fewer numbers travelling by air. Of course, I strongly argued the reverse, that what was important was the policy pursued under legislation. For instance, the policy pursued in relation to the National Social Service Board is important, not the legislation. We have legislation setting it up but there is no National Social Service Board.
Under the Air Transport Act, the Government of which I was a Minister pursued a policy, even before enactment of the legislation, of getting air fares down and bringing competition into air travel. For instance, in March 1983, three months after the Government came to office we licensed the first other Irish airline—Avair—on routes to mainland Britain. Not one single air fare application was approved as it stood; each was reduced even after the British Civil Aviation Authority had approved higher increases. That is important because Deputy O'Malley during the Air Transport Bill, among many other errors which he did not have the grace to withdraw, held up the British Civil Aviation Authority as the paragon of virtue, the great example to be followed. I wonder would Deputy O'Malley today say that the British Civil Aviation Authority or the British Department of Transport are the greatest examples to follow? Can he now see that the British, like every other Government, were busy defending their national interests whilst he was busy attacking ours. The British Secretary for Transport this week, for instance, disallowed participation by the Scandinavian Airways system in British Caledonia for reasons of national interest. The British Civil Aviation Authority have refused Ryanair rights to Shannon/Luton and Cork/Luton to protect British airlines who are also on those routes. Anyone who wants to see the errors of fact can read the debates of 22 May. We must highlight once and for all how wrong Deputy O'Malley was on aviation and how right was the rest of the House.
We all want lower air fares and we have got them. Please God, the air fares will be even lower with continuity of service. Deputy O'Malley said in that debate, when moving an amendment to restrict the Minister's powers to maximum prices that many other countries have this power and when he was challenged to name one he cited Britain and the Netherlands. When Deputy O'Malley was shown that that was not the case he suggested the US and when shown that that was wrong he had not the grace to withdraw. Not one other country restricts its power to regulating maximum fares only.
Every civil aviation authority has the same power that we sought in the Air Transport Act, 1985. Deputy O'Malley said that Dan Air were hunted off when filing a lower air fare for London. When Dan Air said that that was not true Deputy O'Malley repeated the allegation. I convened a meeting in the Department of Transport and Communications at which the chief executive of Dan Air, the chief executive of Aer Lingus, Deputy O'Malley and I attended. The several erroneous declarations the Deputy had made were cited to each party, the minutes were agreed and circulated and the minutes directly contradicted everything that Deputy O'Malley said. Despite the fact that the minutes were agreed by Dan Air, by Aer Lingus and by me as an accurate account of the meeting, Deputy O'Malley would not accept it.
Deputy O'Malley made much of the £49 air fare between London and Amsterdam. The Deputy was asked to admit that the £60 from Dublin to London then pertaining under the restrictions was even cheaper on a per mile basis but he refused. Deputy O'Malley said that the American authorities did not seek to control cargo fares, but they did. Deputy O'Malley did not withdraw that error when it was pointed out to him.
Committee Stage will highlight the grievous errors repeatedly stated in this House by Deputy O'Malley who confidently predicted that the Air Transport Act would lead to higher air fares. Everybody knows what has happened to air fares between here and Britain and between here and Europe to a lesser extent in the past three years. This development has not been paralleled anywhere else in Europe. There have been improvements in other places but nowhere has there been the dramatic improvement that has taken place in the price and range of air services out of this country. I am very happy to have been associated with this development. While we were implementing that policy at home we were inaugurating new approaches at the EC Council of Ministers. I thank God that at last there has been some progress there. Progress has been held up in recent months because of a political disagreement between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar. The problem has been resolved and the small measure of Fifth Freedom Access which the Council have agreed will be fully agreed next Monday in Brussels and will come into effect making Ireland one of the biggest beneficiaries.
We made it a condition of liberalisation in Europe that there should be increased market access. If airlines based in Ireland with a population of three and a half million people are to have any chance of competing successfully with airlines like Lufthansa, British Airways or Air Italia, based on 60 million people, they have to have equality of access. Otherwise there is a massive distortion of competition and it is almost impossible for the smaller airlines to succeed. That is why this first step is so significant for Irish aviation. I have no doubt that both Aer Lingus, Ryanair and perhaps the lesser known Irish airline, Club Air group will be able to expand considerably on foot of the agreement which now seems certain to be reached next Monday. I urge the Minister and the Government to make it clear at the Council meeting next Monday that this is but a first step and that all steps towards liberalisation can only be achieved by ever-increasing market access so that eventually all the airlines of the Community will have the possibility of access to all the routes of the Community.
These are exciting times for aviation. When almost every other aspect of the economy is in decline aviation is growing. This sector has been nurtured and is growing. I hope the policies which have led to that expansion will continue.
I noted the Taoiseach's statement during the week on this matter. I was pleased to receive a communication from the Taoiseach thanking me for my role in opening up aviation. It was a very gracious message.
In relation to Knock Airport, I believe it was built in the wrong place for too high a price. I made one speech on that which did not incur favour for me in Knock or among those who supported the Knock project. If Knock Airport had been built on lower more solid land perhaps ten miles south of Knock rather than ten miles north of Knock it would have cost less. Apart from the cost of building it, Knock Airport is now a success. I congratulate those involved wholeheartedly on it. I decided that policy in the Department, because Knock Airport was already there, would be that we will do everything possible to make it a success. Not only did we license airlines to serve out of Knock but we went looking for airlines to serve out of Knock. I congratulate all concerned and I would urge everybody in aviation and especially in the Mayo area, of all political persuasions, to work to make Knock a continuing success.
The level of air fares and the level of air safety are only relevant when there are services. Continuity and range of service are the vital concerns. The range of service has been vitally improved by the licensing of Ryanair and Club Air. The future of Aer Lingus is also a very big question given the amount of capital that Aer Lingus will need to refleet over the next seven or eight years.