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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 7 Jul 2004

Vol. 588 No. 6

Other Questions.

Metro Project.

Emmet Stagg


39 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Transport the position with regard to his plans to bring forward to Cabinet proposals for the construction of a metro system in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20435/04]

Olwyn Enright


41 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Transport the projected cost of the airport metro; if he has received Cabinet approval for the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20298/04]

Trevor Sargent


50 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport when the Cabinet will make a decision with regard to the first phase of the Dublin metro project; and the number of years it would take before such a service came into operation in view of the approval in the summer of 2004 of the outline proposal prepared by the RPA. [20556/04]

Billy Timmins


65 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Transport if he has satisfied himself that he can deliver the Dublin metro by 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20319/04]

Joe Sherlock


77 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Transport his views on the report of the consultants engaged by the Joint Committee on Transport on the review of all information and data relating to the proposed Dublin metro; when he expects to bring specific proposals to Government on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20433/04]

John Gormley


131 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the technical reasons for the two Luas lines not being connected via an overground line between Westmoreland Street, College Green and Dawson Street; the most likely location for the proposed underground city centre metro to resurface and connect to the former Harcourt Street rail line; and if an overground city centre Luas extension from O’Connell Street to St. Stephen’s Green or Harcourt Street will lead to increased patronage on the Luas line from Tallaght even if not fully connected into the former Harcourt Street line due to the introduction of a metro. [20555/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39, 41, 50, 65, 77 and 131 together.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a metro with a link to Dublin Airport. I have received from the Railway Procurement Agency the revised outline business case for line 1 of the metro, which involves a line from the airport to the city centre. The total estimated direct capital cost of construction in 2002 prices is €1.2 billion.

Integration of public transport services in the greater Dublin area is being pursued within the broad policy framework of the Dublin Transportation Office's Platform for Change. In this regard, the possibility of a connection with the Tallaght and Sandyford Luas lines is being considered in the context of the first phase of the metro project from the city centre to the airport. The timescale, precise cost and route, number and location of stations and arrangements for connections with the Luas lines will depend on a number of factors including the final Government decision, geo-technical surveys, negotiations with bidders and railway order processes including a public inquiry. The merits of all alternative solutions and routes will be considered in the preparation of a submission for the Government on the matter.

I welcome the Joint Committee on Transport's recent report on the proposal for a Dublin metro system, which was a valuable contribution to the debate on this issue. In particular, I welcome the recommendation in favour of a metro system with a connection to the airport. I am finalising my proposals on the metro in the context of the wider transport needs of the greater Dublin area. I expect the Government to finalise proposals on the metro in the near future.

The Minister has been using the phrase "in the near future" in this regard for the past year or so. One would not want to be holding one's breath. In a reply to Deputy Naughten during his last Question Time on 27 May last, the Minister said he would bring proposals to the Cabinet before the summer.

I believe the Minister used the phrase "shortly".

Does he still expect to bring proposals to the Cabinet before the summer? What can we read into the Taoiseach's comment last week that the metro, as proposed by the Minister, is not seen as a priority for Government spending? Where are we going in that regard? Although there has been a great deal of talk and many reports and various committees have met to discuss the project, it is hard to know whether it is going anywhere. Will the Minister tell the House when he intends to bring a proposal to Cabinet? What did the Taoiseach mean by his comments last week?

This issue has been discussed by the Cabinet and various committees over the past year, on and off. I discussed it bilaterally with the Taoiseach and many Ministers during that period. We asked the RPA to reconsider the matter after it had given its original estimations. It came back to us with a direct capital cost estimation of €1.2 billion. The programme for Government commits the Government to developing a metro from the airport to the city centre.

It is a Government commitment. We are in the final phases of seeing how best we can finance the project, service the financing and move the project forward without too much delay. I agree with the Taoiseach's comments about the prospect of immediately starting to build the entire metro system, as proposed by the DTO. The project would last 20 or 30 years and would cost many billions. One can pick any number — it might cost €15 billion, €20 billion or €30 billion. We will not do that because we cannot afford it. The Taoiseach and I do not envisage the immediate construction of the entire city-wide metro system, but we envisage living up to the commitment in the programme for Government.

The RPA, which has done a substantial amount of work in this regard, has selected the recommended route. They originally had three routes but have narrowed it down to one recommendation. They have whittled down their estimates from over €2 billion to €1.2 billion and they are now in a position to allow us to take some final decisions.

When will the Minister bring it to Cabinet?

It would have been wrong of me to take a decision on this a year ago with the level of pricing being put to me at that time. That is the reason I decided to put them back through the hoops to see if we could get a different price on it. The Cabinet will discuss the matter again in its next few meetings——

When will the Minister bring a proposal to Cabinet?

——and a Cabinet committee on infrastructure will discuss it.

When will the Minister bring a proposal to Cabinet?

I cannot give the Deputy a definite date on that but the Cabinet will discuss it shortly.

Is the Minister still planning to bring it to Cabinet before the summer break?

The Cabinet usually meets right up to the end of July and it meets very early in September.

Does the Minister still intend to bring it to Cabinet before the summer break? The Minister knows what I mean.

From time to time it meets in August if it has to——

Will the Minister bring it to Cabinet before the summer break?

In the course of the next few Cabinet meetings this matter will be discussed again by the Cabinet. When it is right to take a final decision and we are satisfied with the pricing, the routes and the repayment systems we will then——

Does the Minister have the proposal on it?

I have accepted the Railway Procurement Agency's proposal to me and I am now satisfied with it, but I was not a year ago. I have discussed it with Cabinet colleagues — the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and other Ministers — in committee. We are in a position now to finalise matters.

Will the Minister define the difference between "the near future" and "shortly"? He appears to rotate those terms when referring to the timescale for the presentation to Cabinet. The Minister has been using them for the past 12 or 18 months but it is like a broken record at this stage. Will the Minister define those terms and outline the timescale involved? When will a decision be made on this matter?

In light of the fact that the Minister is now standing over the RPA figures, does he not believe it is inadequate of the RPA to cost figures based on the fact that they will adversely affect potential customers of the metro? Does he not agree that the reduction in the number of stations, escalators and ticketing machines will reduce the number of people who may use the metro and generate an income?

The Minister stated on a number of occasions in the past that the metro to Dublin Airport from the city centre is not a stand-alone project but the first step in a larger metro project. In light of his comments earlier, and the Taoiseach's comments this morning that the project to the airport is enormously costly and that the Cabinet would not consider an extension to the entire Dublin area, does the Minister stand over his comments on the metro from the city centre to the airport as a stand-alone project? Has he done a U-turn on that? Has the Irish Rail plan been taken off the table or is it ongoing?

I fully stand over my statement that the metro from the city centre to the airport — my preference would be that it would go on to Swords — would form the first part of a city and county-wide system. What the Taoiseach and I are saying is that we cannot undertake the city and county-wide system now but it is sensible that what we do here forms the first leg of an overall city and county plan, which is in the DTO platform for change. That is totally consistent.

In regard to the Irish Rail project, the DTO also recommends that an interconnector be developed as well as other similar proposals. They are also necessary and it is a matter of deciding which of these we get to first. These are multi-billion euro projects and I am determined that the first project we will do, before the Irish Rail project, will be the metro project because it is necessary to link the Luas——

What about the proposal to the airport?

It is necessary to link the two Luas lines and the metro project from Swords, hopefully, or from the airport to St. Stephen's Green, which will turn that Luas line into a metro line from Swords to Sandyford. That would be a fantastic addition to the city. I have told the Taoiseach, the Cabinet and my colleagues that I am fully committed to finalising the funding arrangements to bring that into being. I am not deliberately delaying on this in any way; I just want to get it right, and as soon as it is right I will push the button, but not before.

I accept the Minister now sees the sense in the RPA proposal but the problem, as we saw this morning, is that the Taoiseach does not believe in it. He was asked specifically for his opinion of the Dublin metro plan and all he could say was that it was very expensive and how could we possibly pay for it, which means that it is dead in the water, so to speak, in Cabinet. In those circumstances, would the Minister not be better off getting a decision from the Cabinet? His Government colleagues would then have to face the reality of the other options we might have to pursue including, as the Minister said, linking the current Luas line in St. Stephen's Green?

Does the Minister believe that the alternative to a metro would be reversion to the original Luas proposal, which would see the two lines connecting and a third line heading north from O'Connell Street towards the airport? Given that in the past the Minister said that the Irish Rail option of a spur from the DART line is not feasible, will he agree that the next best option, if we cannot afford the metro, is that original Luas proposal?

The Minister prevaricated on this issue for a year. He said he had to "put them back through the hoops" on the figures but the reality is that those figures were confirmed a year ago. He has sat on them for a year and in that time 70,000 houses have been built. The longer we put off this decision, the more houses will be built alongside roadways instead of public transport lines, on which we do not know if the Government has a view. A planning issue arises here and every week the Minister waits is an extra thousand houses built in the wrong place. That is the real cost of the Minister's indecision on this issue over the past year.

I remind the House again of the one minute time limit.

First, I did not sit on it for a year. The work that was going on in the RPA only concluded recently when I received the answers to the final queries I made. I was not satisfied to proceed on the basis of what was presented to me and I continued to make the queries until I got the answers. Now that I have the answers I am satisfied to go ahead.

Second, I think what the Taoiseach was referring to is that there is a perception that Dublin gets everything — the M50, Luas, the metro and so on. There is a need to explain to the rest of the country that every time another €1 billion project is proposed for Dublin our citizens in Cork, Galway and throughout the country can have access to it and avail of its services. I think the Taoiseach was referring to that type of thinking when he talked about not doing the entire €15 billion, €20 billion or €30 billion project tomorrow.

In short, the Department of Transport and myself are strongly committed to this metro project. We finally got the answers we pushed hard for over some time. If the Deputy looks at the figures we are now operating on he will see it was worth the wait. A route is selected and it is now a matter for my Cabinet colleagues and myself to bring finality to this, which I am determined to do.

If the Minister cannot afford the metro line to the airport we should revert to the original Luas proposal, which was to connect the two lines over-ground in the city centre and build a third Luas line north to the airport.

I would prefer to do it properly.

If the Minister is not able to do it properly, would he revert to that option?

I do not accept that I am not doing the metro. I am determined in that regard.

When will the Minister decide on it?

A week before the next general election.

We all accept that the metro is needed. The Minister accepts that also. The difficulty is the delay. Will the Minister accept that the longer we delay, the more it will cost the State?

I was interested to hear the Minister say that the Taoiseach is concerned about a perception that Dublin is getting priority over the rest of the country. Is any other area in the country experiencing traffic problems such as those in Dublin?

There are places and the Deputy should ask his party's county councillors about them.

Commentators often overlook the amount of taxes paid by people in Dublin in contrast to the quality of life experienced in many Dublin areas. The Minister referred to the metro line going to Dublin Airport from the city centre. Is the delay due to the proposed location of the metro terminal at the airport? Is the delay caused by private developers building the terminal?

People pay taxes outside Dublin city.

We pay much more than anyone else due to population size.

It is nice to have roads to go down to the country.

I do not want to cause a fight between Deputy Crowe and his country cousins because everyone pays their taxes. The terminal is not an issue in the design of the metro. It is early days as the detailed physical terminal points have not been finally settled.

There is a need for joined-up thinking in the Department of Transport and at Cabinet. The Minister spoke of the need for a western rail corridor and raised the argument as to whether the infrastructure should come first or after development. However, he does not accept that principle because there is no proven demand for the western rail corridor.

I never said that.

The Minister did when he spoke about the eternal argument about whether infrastructure should come first or whether one should wait for development. It makes sense to put the infrastructure in place first. The Minister had no difficulty spending billions of euro on roads in the greater Dublin area. As Deputy Eamon Ryan pointed out, development has occurred along those roads leading to morning and evening traffic chaos. This is due to the lack of linkage between housing development and transport policies. An agency is needed to plan for housing development and transport together rather than separately as it is now.

Regarding the proposed metro, is the Minister taking on board the Committee on Transport's recommendation on the necessity of identifying an agency with a proven track record of delivering projects on time and within budget?

It will be hard to find such an agency.

The clear implication of this recommendation is that the Railway Procurement Agency is not the one to deliver a metro. The Taoiseach is correct in describing the cost as astronomical. Ways of managing it must be found. Half the cost of the metro could be provided through development levies on sites between Swords and Dublin city centre with no charge on the Exchequer. Is the Minister exploring that option?

I will study further the recommendations of the Committee on Transport on the metro. However, the Railway Procurement Agency is the best agency equipped to build a metro. The Dublin Transportation Office and the local authorities' planning guidelines contain integrated considerations for land use and transport and housing needs. I am in favour of levies for development on the metro line.

No greenfield sites will be left at the rate the Minister is proceeding.

Now that the Minister for Transport has confidence in the Railway Procurement Agency, is there any point in building a metro if people are not prepared to use it? Will people use it if they have to climb up and down staircases because the Railway Procurement Agency cut back on the number of escalators? What about the reduction in the number of stations? To extend the metro from three carriages to four will require a boring machine to be brought back. The cost has been reduced to €1.2 billion because the Railway Procurement Agency has downgraded the specification for the proposed metro. It is important that people use the service when it is up and running and that the customer is looked after. Since the Railway Procurement Agency has already ignored this, it should not be the agency with responsibility for it.

The Deputy is very concerned about escalators. I will bring this to the attention of the designers.

The Minister should read the Committee on Transport report on the proposed metro.

Will the Minister respond to the report?

I share the Minister's confidence in the Railway Procurement Agency as it did an excellent job in delivering the Luas, given the mess made by the Government causing a three year delay in its completion. Given that the other proposed metro lines will be scrapped, why should the Department of Transport not ask the Dublin Transportation Office to review its platform for change? Will the Minister review the regional planning guidelines which allow for housing to grow along the new roads that are planned, taking no cognisance of previous plans that proposed concentration back towards the centre along public transport lines? Now that the broader metro project has been reduced, the Minister must review housing and transport planning.

The metro is not scrapped. The broad city and countywide scheme is still part of the Dublin Transportation Office's plans. However, the Taoiseach and I have said that the broader scheme cannot be constructed now. I have asked the Dublin Transportation Office to review its platform for change programme constantly but that is not a fixed——

What does that mean?

——settled document. The Dublin Transportation Office is a good organisation with highly professional planners. On a day-to-day basis it continues to update its plans and programmes and bring them to the Government's attention.

It is time to get off the merry-go-round. The Minister has been on it for the last two years.

I might do another two years.

It is not looking good at the moment.

Rail Services.

Fergus O'Dowd


40 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport further to Question No. 229 of 22 June 2004 if the examination has been completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20292/04]

Fergus O'Dowd


60 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport further to Question No. 229 of 22 June 2004, if he will report on the progress to date on the examination; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20291/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos.40 and 60 together.

While the performance of rolling stock within its fleet is a day-to-day matter for Iarnród Éireann, the company has informed me that the examination referred to has been completed and that certain modifications are being made to improve performance.

Will these modifications include health and safety provisions? On a recent train to Drogheda, the air conditioning failed in three carriages and six people fainted and one lady had an asthma attack, as reported in the Drogheda Independent. Is it Iarnród Éireann’s judgment that this train to Drogheda was overcrowded? Many passengers believe that, owing to the failure of an earlier train, more people were forced to take this one. It was a shameful and disgraceful incident. What steps will the Minister take to insist that Iarnród Éireann looks after the health and safety of its passengers?

I share the Deputy's concerns about this incident. The delayed departure of the train was caused by a points failure occurring at Connolly Station. In addition, a technical problem occurred with the air conditioning units on some of the individual carriages on the train which compounded the discomfort experienced by Iarnród Éireann's customers on that hot day. Iarnród Éireann is conducting a full examination of all of its newly-acquired diesel rail cars to ensure no recurrence of the problem. Iarnród Éireann apologised to the customers for the delays that evening and is working to ensure such occurrences are avoided.

What specific changes will Iarnród Éireann make? When three carriages fail such as these, should the train have been postponed due to the danger it posed to customers? Are there panels in the cab to make the driver aware of an air conditioning failure in the carriages on one of the hottest days of the year?

I do not know if he was aware. Such a warning system should be in place and I will draw Iarnród Éireann's attention to the Deputy's comment. It has apologised for the incident and is working to ensure there is no recurrence. What happened was not acceptable to me and I join in the apology to the customers affected.

While no one doubts the sincerity of the Minister's apology, he cannot tell me what changes Iarnród Éireann is making to the carriages. He does not know. It is not good enough that his Department cannot provide him with the facts. Could the Minister find out what the cost of the changes will be and if they will have to be made to all the new trains purchased by Iarnród Éireann ?

I will get the information for the Deputy. He must appreciate that it is an operational matter for the company which operates the trains.

That may well be but this could be a life and death situation for those travelling on these trains. People were in extreme distress.

I will draw that to the attention of the board and ask it to supply the Deputy with the information requested.

Regarding the Minister's comment that this is an operational matter for the company, is it the case that in this instance there was a serious threat to the safety of passengers on the train? Is it also the case that the Minister dragged his heels for the past 14 months? He has not arranged Committee or Report Stages of the railway safety commission Bill which could set down standards and guidelines and enforce them on that service and every other rail service in the country? When will we see the railway safety commission legislation enacted? The Minister should not simply tell us he has an interim commissioner in place. When will we see the legislation to back that up? The previous Minister said this was critical legislation because the current legislation did not allow for adequate investigating powers. The current Minister has dragged his heels on the issue.

It is not fair to attempt to draw a connection between the legislation before the House with regard to safety matters and what happened in this particular case. The rolling stock, track, equipment and so on involved in that case would have gone through the normal safety procedures. We have a very strong safety regime in place, albeit not on a statutory basis. Senior civil servants were charged with overseeing safety. I am fairly sure the necessary equipment in all these areas was signed off on by the relevant safety personnel.

The officials have a problem. They have no backup. They are the ones who have been calling for these changes.

It is not fair to suggest in this particular case, if one knows the facts, that the commission in office, as distinct from the commissioner in office, albeit without statutory support, would have made any difference in this case.

Is it the case that one of the issues being discussed on Report Stage of this Bill is whether the commissioner should have a role regarding maximum capacity on these carriages? Had there not been overcrowding one would not have had the difficulty. For the Minister to distance himself from it is wrong.

The overcrowding issue is before the company for a long time. It is the responsibility of the people operating those trains at the time to ensure there is no overcrowding. They are not allowed to overcrowd trains.

They do so. The train was seriously overcrowded.

They should not overcrowd trains beyond a safe level. That is the clear instruction from the safety officer.

What are the protocols?

There are none.

That is the point. One must have these safety protocols in place. They must be absolute and apply in all these conditions. The Minister could identify with the help of Iarnród Éireann the number of staff on duty on the platform on that day to make sure that train was not overcrowded. I understand that on the 5.13 p.m. train from Pearse Station to Drogheda there were hundreds of people pushing into those carriages. I have never seen uniformed and clearly identifiable Iarnród Éireann staff ensuring that people can get safely onto their trains. What criteria will the Minister insist are used by Iarnród Éireann in future when people are being packed into trains like sardines?

It is the same with the trains to the west. They are like cattle trains at the weekends.

The Deputy might support some of my reforms in that area when I introduce them. CIE staff are instructed by safety officials not to permit overcrowding of trains beyond a safe point.

There is nobody to stop them.

There is no legislation.

They are clearly instructed by safety officials to do that.

How do they know?

There is no legislation backing that up.

They do not know.

Is the Deputy saying they deliberately flout the safety instructions?

That train was clearly overcrowded. People fainted. One lady had an asthma attack. People could not breathe. They were wiping their faces with their clothes. That happened because there was no one on duty to stop the overcrowding. It is the responsibility of the Minister.

I agree, but I do not stand at every station checking the trains. No train should be overcrowded because CIE officials are instructed not to permit overcrowding on trains.

There is no legislative backup for that.

Will the Minister travel on the trains?

I will investigate the matter further because I know the incident caused personal trauma to a number of individuals.

Air Services.

Pat Breen


42 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport the current position regarding the bilateral talks between the US and Ireland. [20275/04]

Jan O'Sullivan


52 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport the position in regard to the Shannon stopover; the decisions that were reached on this issue at the meeting of EU Transport Ministers on 10 and 11 June 2004; the discussions he has had with US officials on the subject; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20403/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 52 together.

EU Transport Ministers discussed this issue at the Transport Council held on 11 June 2004. At that time there was a proposed air transport agreement between the EU and the US on the table which would have included open skies between the EU and US. Transport Ministers felt that the deal on offer was unbalanced in favour of the US and asked the European Commission to continue urgent negotiations with the US, particularly in view of the then upcoming EU-US summit on 26 June 2004.

Despite those last minute efforts by the Commission, it was not possible to bridge the gap in time for the EU-US summit. Accordingly, the negotiations are now paused for the summer. I understand that contacts between the EU and US sides will recommence possibly in September with full negotiations commencing possibly by the end of this year on the few items that are left to be agreed.

During the discussions at the Transport Council, Ireland once again made it clear that while we are in favour of reaching an EU agreement with the US, Ireland's agreement is contingent on an acceptable arrangement on Shannon Airport being agreed between Ireland and the US, and that deal being reflected in the EU-US agreement.

On 4 and 5 May 2004, my officials travelled to Washington to discuss this issue with the US. I also spoke to the US Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta, about this issue when I met him at various meetings on a number of occasions in the months leading up to the Transport Council. No agreement was reached at any of these meetings. However, I am satisfied that had an EU-US deal emerged from the Transport Council, an arrangement for Shannon Airport would have been reached between Ireland and the US in the run-up to the signing of the EU-US deal at the summit.

Currently, there are no EU-US negotiations taking place. However, that does not mean that Ireland or the EU can stand still. There is no doubt that an EU-US agreement is inevitable once the difficult issue of market access for both EU and US carriers is solved. I am therefore maintaining contact with the US side.

Does the Minister think that a ten-year lead-in period for change in the current bilateral agreement would be better than the much shorter period he is proposing? Deputy Naughten noted that the Minister is long-fingering development of the western rail track, but he is certainly fast-tracking his airport policy. A ten-year lead-in period would ensure that the infrastructure, such as the rail and road links and so on, is in place which would give Shannon a chance to get new business. The Minister knows that satisfactory talks were held with US officials in Dromoland Castle and he could negotiate a ten-year agreement. It is important.

Regarding the proposed sale of Aer Lingus, if the Government becomes a minority shareholder, will the current bilateral agreement be null and void?

It is not up to the Irish Government. The bilateral situation cannot continue indefinitely. I know that the Signal group in Shannon has put a figure of ten years on it, and I would be happy to get as many years as possible. It is a matter for negotiation in the sense that access to the US by Aer Lingus, for example, is important. I am told that up to 20 cities in the United States have indicated to Aer Lingus that it could have access if it had the aircraft to fly into them. It currently flies into five cities in the United States. I am told that up to 20 cities have approached Aer Lingus to indicate they would like services. While that is not to say Aer Lingus will operate from those cities or has the aircraft to do so, the indication is there.

When the EU-US talks recommence, particularly when the United States election is out of the way, there will be fairly quick agreement and we will get open skies. My job is to ensure, in the context of open skies between the United States and Europe, that we get a deal for Shannon that gives it time and space to put plans in place and to further develop the airport. I am totally opposed to any sudden shocks for Shannon in this area and totally supportive of getting the most appropriate and maximum space for it in the context of the open skies policy generally, which in the long term will be of benefit to Shannon as well as to the country. I am determined I can deliver for Shannon the best possible deal and assure the House I am on Shannon's side in this debate.

The Minister keeps saying he is on Shannon's side and wants to see the west develop, which is fine. However, let us hear what he is actually trying to achieve. The Minister says he wants to ensure an acceptable arrangement for Shannon. What, in his view, is an acceptable arrangement in terms of the phasing out of the dual gateway policy? Would the Minister not accept that whatever the critics of the stopover say, it has been the only meaningful instrument used by Government over many years to achieve some kind of balance in regional development? If the Minister is on the side of Shannon, has he any proposals for when the stopover is completely phased out in terms of improving access to the airport so that passengers can reach it more easily than they can currently gain access to Dublin Airport, and ensuring the achievement of other spin-offs? What does the Minister regard as an acceptable arrangement in terms of phasing? How will he compensate for the loss of business due to the ending of the stopover?

Much is going on in the Shannon region. A significant amount of money is being invested in infrastructure, Ennis has been by-passed, the motorway to Galway has been privatised to create access to the airport and a study of the rail link from Ennis to the airport has been sanctioned. In addition, the Irish Aviation Authority and Enterprise Ireland are being moved to Shannon. The investment in the infrastructure of the region shows that the Government is fully committed to it.

On the aviation side, I will accept the best number of years I can get to allow the Shannon Airport Authority to attract other airlines and United States cities, and more direct business from the United States, the UK, the EU and generally. I am sure that whatever package we can put together will be acceptable to the people of Shannon as a practical road forward. I will work day and night to bring about that acceptable deal.

Is it not a fact that the European Commission has no problem with any internal arrangements Ireland has with the US and that the senior aviation official in the European Union is on record as saying this? If Aer Lingus is sold or the Government becomes a minority shareholder, is it not the case that the current bilateral agreement becomes null and void?

The bilateral agreement has nothing to do with Aer Lingus as such. It applies to all airlines. Whoever owns the airline — Americans, Chinese or otherwise — airlines coming from the United States have to abide by the bilateral agreement.

We might have to rely on the Chinese.

It does not matter whether it is Aer Lingus, Delta or Continental — they must all adhere to the agreement. The answer to the Deputy's question is that the agreement is not affected.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.