Other Questions.

Aviation Matters.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

45 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the extent to which he has had recent discussions with Aer Rianta or Aer Lingus with reference to the future of air transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12537/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

214 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the position in regard to the future of Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12711/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 214 together.

My Department is engaging in an ongoing process in Aer Rianta in connection with the Government's decision of last July to restructure the company. I will expand on this process in my replies to more specific questions tabled today. With regard to Aer Lingus, my Department is in regular contact with the company about a range of matters, including its performance in the future.

With regard to the future options for Aer Lingus, I have previously advised the House that in light of the continuing turnaround in the company's finances and the continually changing environment, last July I asked the chairman of Aer Lingus to examine and report back to me on the future options for the company. At a meeting on 16 September 2003, the chairman furnished his report to me in which it was indicated that a private sector investment process should be initiated without delay. I also commissioned an independent corporate finance consultant to examine the sale options for Aer Lingus, taking account of the Aer Lingus report. In summary, he has supported the mechanisms proposed in the chairman's report.

I recently advised my Cabinet colleagues of the current state of my deliberations concerning the future of Aer Lingus. I also advised that I will be reverting to Government on specific options for the company in the near future. My deliberations involve detailed consideration of the reports from Aer Lingus and the independent corporate finance consultant as well as a thorough examination of all options for the future of the company.

Will the Minister indicate what discussions he has undertaken with the various parties involved? The unfortunate history in this area shows that discussions appear to take place after the event rather than before it and the Minister will be aware, as an experienced Member of the House, that it is better to have discussions before the event rather than after it. Could he also indicate the extent of the discussions with management and the workforce in both Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta, if they have taken place?

There has been considerable discussion between myself, my officials and the chairmen of both organisations. Discussions with management have occurred on a regular basis and almost weekly in recent weeks in the case of Aer Rianta. There are ongoing discussions. It is usually better to have discussions before making a decision——

That is usually the approach.

——but sometimes one must make the decision first.

And have the discussion afterwards?

That is a funny way to do business.

I suppose it is important for the Minister to make the decision when a microphone is shoved in front of him. It is important to make a comment on it, at least.

The Deputy is not shy either.

What discussions have taken place on the privatisation of Aer Lingus and when does the Minister hope to make a decision on it? Has he discussed the timetable with Aer Lingus? Has the Minister raised with the company the downgrading of the level of service being provided by Aer Lingus at Shannon Airport? Has the Minister discussed the scandal of pilots being paid to stay at home rather than come to work? Does the Minister not consider that a serious misuse of State moneys?

With regard to Shannon, that is a matter for the board and management of the company in the context of how to run the company commercially.

Deputy McDaid would like a more specific comment, particularly in the next few weeks.

I read a reported statement from the chief executive in the newspapers that he was working to resolve the issue regarding the pilots. He said it was not sustainable and I agree.

Everyone would agree with that.

With regard to discussions on Aer Lingus, the chairman, the chief executive, my Department's officials and I have had a number of discussions over the past year on the future of the airline. There have also been some discussions at departmental level with trade union interests but I have not yet put any proposal to Cabinet. I will certainly have discussions with all concerned in the event that I decide to do that.

In respect of Aer Rianta, on 18 March we were within hours of having all the airports closed as a result of industrial action. That action was threatened because of a breach of faith by the Minister, according to workers' interests in the airports. The industrial action was only called off following the intervention of the Taoiseach. The workers were no longer willing to take the Minister's word. The Taoiseach intervened on 17 March and gave a clear undertaking to the workers that the business and commercial information associated with the proposed break up of Aer Rianta would be made available to the unions at an early date. He specifically gave an undertaking that he would provide ample time for consideration of those figures prior to the publication of the State airports Bill.

It is six weeks since the strike was called off. The Minister says he intends to introduce this legislation before the end of this session, which is the beginning of July. That does not leave much time for the unions to consider that information. It has been suggested that the Minister is trying to provoke strike action by his behaviour. Why has the information not been provided? What is the reason for the delay? When does the Minister expect to make that information available to the unions, as promised by the Taoiseach?

With regard to the sale of Aer Lingus, has the Department carried out an analysis of whether a trade sale of part of the company or a public offering of part of the shareholding in the company is the preferred option? What is the Minister's preference between those two alternatives or is there another option for the sale of the company?

My Department has provided the financial information to the financial advisers for the trade unions and to identified trade union officials, in view of the commercial sensitivity of some of the information. I look forward to taking on board, in so far as I can, what the unions suggest.

What timeframe is the Minister allowing for a response?

I have asked that they come back to me in the next two weeks with their views on the financial information. The information is straightforward. It is laid out in working papers prepared by PricewaterhouseCooper and other financial advisers. It indicates projections for the three airports. The information is not a great secret in many ways. It indicates that Shannon and Cork airports will continue to be under pressure, which is the reason I want to do this. They should have a fresh start. It also indicates that Dublin Airport is under performing in terms of revenue with the number of passengers increasing and profits decreasing. There is, therefore, a need for action. I hope to take on board, in a sensible way, the reports from the trade unions.

I am not trying to provoke industrial action. At the same time, however, I will not be intimidated by suggestions of action.

Why was there a six-week delay?

I do not wish to provoke it.

With regard to Aer Lingus, we have considered a number of mechanisms and we have taken advice. That process is continuing.

Driver Licensing System.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

46 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Transport his proposals for a review of the provisional driver licence system; when he expects the review to be completed; when he expects to have proposals in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11012/04]

John Bruton

Question:

82 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Transport if he intends to abolish provisional driving licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11005/04]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

92 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Transport his intentions in respect of his announcement of December 2002 of plans to reform the provisional driving licence system; the proposed timeframe for such reforms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12532/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46, 82 and 92 together.

Over the years various changes have been made to the regulatory conditions under which provisional licences have effect. I am considering whether further changes are desirable in this regard. In particular, I wish to bring in measures that will reduce long-term reliance on provisional licences. I am also reviewing the provision whereby holders of second provisional licences for cars are not required to be accompanied by a person who holds a driving licence for that category of vehicle, with a view to ending this arrangement. All other provisional licence holders, other than drivers of motorcycles and work vehicles, must be accompanied by a qualified driver at all times when driving in a public place.

In addition, I am considering, in consultation with motor cycling interests and the insurance industry, measures to improve the training and safety of motor cyclists, especially those on provisional licences. I intend to submit detailed proposals for a package of driver licensing reforms to Government shortly. I envisage these proposals would be implemented on a phased basis.

The Minister will agree that urgent action is required to address the 13-month backlog. Only 18 months ago the average waiting time was ten weeks. Is the Minister aware that not having a full driving licence is costing young drivers approximately €50 million per year in increased premia? Particularly in rural areas it is depriving people of job opportunities and hence the need for urgent reform. Will the Minister comment on the eight driving tester vacancies that remain to be filled? I understand if these eight appointments were made, those testers could carry out approximately 15,300 tests per annum, which would greatly alleviate the backlog.

The heads of the Bill to establish the new driver testing and standards authority have been approved by Cabinet and the drafting of the Bill is being finalised. I have had discussions with some civil servants who are due to move to that authority. It is my intention that the authority would deal with the backlog in an aggressive way as soon as it is operational. I am seeking to have the eight vacancies filled as soon as possible. I agree with the Deputy that this will make a difference. Approximately 370,000 people currently hold provisional licences. A considerable number of those hold second or subsequent provisional licences.

I note that the Minister is now trying to pass responsibility for the backlog to the new authority. However, is it not the case that the Minister caused the backlog in the first place by his irresponsible comments? What specific actions will the Minister take to address the problem? He is thinking about appointing eight people to fill the tester vacancies. Will he introduce a bonus scheme in the summer and not in the autumn as he did last year, when it was not possible to provide any additional tests as they had to take place during daylight hours? Would it not make more sense to have it in place this summer so that we could clear some of the backlog?

Some drivers with provisional licences are currently driving HGVs and buses. Given the high number of HGVs involved in road accidents the Minister should give priority to testing those on provisional licences driving such dangerous vehicles. A further category of people had previously got driving licences, which lapsed because of the casual attitude to driving licences that had developed in the country. This category includes the Taoiseach. Many experienced drivers who had been driving for many years let their licences lapse. Does the Minister intend making any special provision for those people or will they have to undergo a test again?

Driving testers are conducting a total of 4,000 tests per week. We introduced a bonus scheme last year, which helped substantially. I intend to introduce another bonus scheme and fill these eight vacancies. However this will only really start when the new authority takes office.

Of 1.8 million vehicles in the State, 1.4 million are motorcars. This leaves approximately 400,000 motorcycles and HGVs. I believe the number of motorcycles is approximately 50,000 or 60,000. This means there are about 300,000 HGVs. I can get a more accurate figure for the Deputy.

I do not want an accurate figure. I am asking the Minister to give priority to arranging tests for those on provisional licences driving HGVs, a large number of whom end up involved in traffic accidents.

I can take a look at that. The applications for driving tests are dealt with in rotation.

Is it acceptable for a person on a provisional licence to drive an HGV?

It is not. Nor is it acceptable that those on fourth or fifth provisional licences are driving around the country.

What will the Minister do about it?

I propose to get through it. I do not propose to make any specific arrangements in the case of those with lapsed licences.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.