64 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if he will outline national policy on the development of Irish ports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16526/06]
Vol. 618 No. 4
64 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if he will outline national policy on the development of Irish ports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16526/06]
Current Government policy regarding the port sector is outlined in the ports policy statement which I launched while serving as Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in January 2005. This document identifies important policy issues to be addressed in the short to medium term.
The policy statement aims to better equip the port sector and its stakeholders to meet national and regional capacity and service needs. Its key elements include clearer and more focused commercial mandates for the ports and their boards, encouragement of private sector investment and involvement, sanction for the use of non-core assets to fund new port development but not to mask inefficiencies, encouragement of healthy competitive conditions within and between ports and better consultation and dispute resolution between port companies and users through appropriate information sharing and arbitration mechanisms.
The policy statement also identifies as a key challenge the provision of adequate in-time port capacity, particularly for unitised trade. A framework is set out to ensure that capacity needs are identified, planned and progressed in aco-ordinated manner.
A study is under way in my Department to examine future capacity requirements, particularly for unitised trade. The purpose of this process is to help determine whether the anticipated capacity requirements can be met through the successful advancement and implementation by the port sector of some combination of the various proposals currently under development in the sector. It is intended to finalise a report in the coming months.
A number of measures outlined in the policy statement will require legislative changes and a new harbours Bill to provide for such changes is included in the Department's legislative programme.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I wish to pursue a question in respect of Dublin Port, which applied for a foreshore licence to increase its berthage through land reclamation in 1998. The port authorities are still awaiting a response to that application and have been indicating for some time that the port will reach its full capacity early next year. While one might be able to erect a tent at Dublin Airport, one cannot do so at Dublin Port.
What is the Government's intention regarding the provision of future port capacity for the Dublin area? As I am sure the Minister of State is aware, well over half of our goods, both imports and exports, go through Dublin Port. While we have additional capacity available at other ports around the country, approximately 70% of the goods coming through Dublin Port are going into or coming directly out of Dublin. A Dublin solution is required. What is the Government's plan to provide such a solution? Will a response to the application for a foreshore licence be forthcoming, one way or the other? The port authorities deserve to know what will happen in the future.
The Deputy's question was a general one relating to ports and the Government policy thereon. Dublin is included in that. As an indication of the importance of Dublin Port, while 99% of goods goes through all our ports, approximately 59% of our lift on-lift off traffic goes through Dublin, as does almost 80% of our roll on-roll off traffic. Dublin Port accounts for approximately 50% of both throughput and turnover of the State's port companies.
The purpose of the Government's decision on the ports policy statement was to conduct an audit to establish capacity and future requirements throughout the country. Dublin Port is integral to that. We appointed a company to assist us and it will report shortly. It received development proposals from a number of ports, bearing in mind a substantial increase in capacity will be required to cater for the increase in exports and imports up to and beyond 2014. We are victims of our success and the tremendous growth in the economy over the years, which the most objective observers state will continue for a further ten or 15 years and, hopefully, more.
I presume Deputy Mitchell refers to the 52 hectares and the application to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for the necessary approval.
No decision has been taken on that. It will be interesting to see from the report which will be made available to us by Fisher Associates what the demands on and proposals for Dublin will be. We should await the outcome of that, which should not take more than two or three months, and then establish what Dublin will require in the future.
Why must the needs of Dublin be established when the Department was told eight years ago? This Fisher report seems to go into a level of detail of analysis which has little relevance for Government if this involves the independent companies established by legislation. They have made decisions on their future requirements and all they need is a "yes" or "no" from Government. They have waited eight years and it is unacceptable to tell them to wait longer when the Government knows they are running out of capacity.
The decision was made by spending €1 billion to build a tunnel to service a port. One way or another, Dublin deserves to know what its future will be. I know the Minister of State's companions in Government have other plans and have stated them, but we want to know the Government's view, in fairness to everyone investing in businesses in Dublin and throughout the country who must get their goods to market in time.
Regarding the ports policy statement, we must consider the macro situation and the capacity of the State and the entire island. Some of our goods are imported and exported through Larne and Belfast. It is not as simple as one might think to take a decision on these 52 acres. It is all integrated.
I do not want to give the impression that nothing happened in Dublin during the past eight years. Many developments took place. The board is progressive and has a business-like attitude under the chief executive Enda Connellan. The Government's view on overall capacity, including Dublin, will be made clear as soon as we receive the report from Fisher Associates.
65 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the action his Department will take to introduce mandatory fitting of cyclops mirrors to all heavy goods vehicles as part of the annual road worthiness test; the reason for the delay in dealing with this since the proposal was made over three years ago by the Irish Road Haulage Association; if such a requirement is within the scope of EU law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16563/06]
Directive 2003/97 lays down new standards for the type approval of certain categories of vehicles, especially lorries, on the field of vision of drivers and requires that all new vehicles meet the new standards. The directive was transposed into Irish law by the European Communities (Mechanically Propelled Vehicles Entry Into Service) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2004 as regards type approval and entry into service of vehicles.
While the directive's provisions do not become compulsory until 26 January 2007, and then only with regard to new vehicles, I have sought to have these higher standard mirrors fitted to existing HGVs on a voluntary basis. In that regard, in April 2005 the Irish Road Haulage Association, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry and the Irish Business and Employers Confederation were requested to consider advising their members to retrofit vehicles with blind-spot mirrors or indirect vision devices. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry was also asked, in advance of the 26 January 2007 deadline for new vehicles, that all new HGVs being put on the market meet the higher standards required by Directive 2003/97/EC.
The Irish Road Haulage Association responded positively, indicating that in recent years it has actively encouraged its members to fit convex mirrors to their vehicles and to request these when acquiring new vehicles. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry also responded positively, indicating that vehicle distributors had agreed to the fitting of these enhanced mirrors to new vehicles before they become a legal requirement in January 2007. In that regard, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry anticipated that by the end of March 2006, 80% of new vehicles of the relevant categories would meet the requirements of the directive, with all new vehicles so complying by the end of October 2006.
In accordance with Directive 96/96/EC, HGVs are first liable to roadworthiness when they are one year old. As the fitment of mirrors in accordance with Directive 2003/97/EC does not become mandatory until 26 January 2007, it would not be appropriate to check HGVs for these mirrors during the annual roadworthiness test until after 26 January 2008 and then only with regard to HGVs whose registration required the fitting of mirrors in accordance with the requirements of Directive 2003/97.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
On 12 April 2006 the European Commission published a consultation paper on the retrofitting of blind-spot mirrors to existing HGVs, seeking views of interested parties by 19 May 2006 with a view to possibly bringing forward proposals for a directive on the matter. I welcome this development and intend to respond to the European Commission indicating that Ireland would be in favour of early action on the issue. I will progress the development of national legislation in this area having regard to the Commission's consideration of this matter.
I do not accept what the Minister of State has said. He has discussed the relevant EU directive with regard to the fitting of blind-spot mirrors to new trucks, but what about older trucks, and why will the Minister not make it compulsory for owners to fit such trucks with these important mirrors?
We accept there is much public concern about trucks having blind spots. The National Safety Council has estimated that at least eight people die per year on our roads as a result of trucks having these blind spots. The Minister of State will be aware that the Dublin city coroner, Dr. Brian Farrell, after hearing the case of an 80 year old man killed by a truck, recently stated that he strongly recommended the provision of these safety items in the interest of public safety. He even wrote to the insurance companies and the Department of Transport to make his views known.
We know the EU directive will require new trucks to be fitted with these mirrors from next January. What about existing trucks? Under current legislation and EU directives, there is nothing to prevent the Minister from making the fitting of such mirrors compulsory on all trucks in the country. I have checked this and it appears a fairly straightforward process. Relevant legislation is section 11 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. The Minister has the power to make regulations with regard to vehicle equipment. It appears that the action could be carried out with the stroke of a pen. Why will the Minister not do it? He has been urged to do so by the industry and the action would definitely save lives. The Minister has not provided an explanation for his inactivity in the area.
I recognise the role played out by the Irish Road Haulage Association, IBEC and SIMI. I met representatives of the Irish Road Haulage Association today, specifically the director of the association, and it is very happy with the progress that has been made.
Before dealing with the Deputy's supplementary question, I point out that on 12 April 2006 the European Commission published a consultation paper on the retrofitting of blind-spot mirrors to existing HGVs. The Commission is seeking views, which must be submitted by 19 May 2006, with a view to possibly bringing forward proposals for a directive on the matter. We will respond but I want to consult the SIMI to ensure assumptions in the consultation paper reflect the Irish scene. I can accept the general proposals. The Commission proposed retrofitting the mirrors to vehicles registered in 1998, whereas we will propose backdating it to 1992 because the average life of a HGV is approximately 16 years.
The Deputy suggested taking unilateral action but I wish to work within the European framework and it is not possible to make the retrofitting of mirrors compulsory by the stroke of a pen. I assure the House that if it takes much longer, I and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, will consider taking action but I prefer to work within the EU framework. Even if we introduced regulations, this is a technical standard which cannot be cleared unilaterally. It must be cleared through the European Commission. I am keen to pursue the issue as vigorously as possible and to convince colleagues in Europe that retrofitting should be backdated to 1992.
I acknowledge that six to eight fatalities occur each year involving vehicles without retrofit mirrors. Let the House today call for the co-operation of all those who do not have blind-spot mirrors. They cost merely €140, which would not fill a small fuel tank. I give credit to those who have made the effort to install them and call on those who have not immediately to do so.
That is a cop-out on the part of the Minister of State, because he does not have to wait for EU developments. There is nothing to stop him from introducing new regulations for trucks operating on Irish roads. Other states, such as the Netherlands, have done so and Belgium has offered incentives. To say we must await EU developments is merely long-fingering the issue.
The Minister of State referred to a voluntary code. The Irish Road Haulage Association has pleaded with him and his predecessors for nearly three years to take action to introduce a compulsory requirement for blind-spot mirrors. The industry recognises the problems and that the only thing preventing compulsory mirrors is the inactivity of the Department of Transport. The industry has contacted the Minister of State and his predecessors, Deputy Callely and Deputy McDaid. None of the three has done anything to make these life-saving mirrors compulsory. The Minister of State has failed to provide justification for not moving in that direction.
The inactivity of the Department results in the loss of lives on Irish roads, which is inexcusable. It is all very well to say there is a voluntary system, but when people cut costs to the bone they will not fit these mirrors unless they must under the law. They cost €14 and can be fitted for less than €100. Why will the Minister of State not make them compulsory? He has failed to provide one sound reason for not doing so and there is nothing in Irish law to stop him from doing so. The industry wants him to act. We demand action from the Minister of State where his predecessors failed.
I do not want the impression to be given that we can achieve this measure at the stroke of a pen. It involves a technical standard and requires approval from Europe. The EU is progressing the matter, although perhaps not as quickly as we would like. I assure the Deputy that we are taking ownership of the matter.
Other states have not waited. They have taken unilateral action and the Minister of State can do the same.
The technical solutions adopted by the member states to which the Deputy referred, namely Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, do not fully comply with the retrofitting requirements of EU Directive 2003/97. The matter is being pursued vigorously and we want to deal with it with the European Commission. Progress has been made. I have taken every opportunity to discuss the matter with my European counterparts at recent Council meetings. As it only costs €100 per fitting, it is not a great imposition. In the meantime——
In the meantime, lives are being lost.
I assure the Deputy if there are any further delays, a unilateral measure will then be considered.
How long will we have to wait? Will it be another three years?
66 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Transport his views on the results of the Dublin Bus network review in terms of the number of buses that are required; if he is working or plans to work towards implementing the recommendations in the report and within the timeframe proposed in the report; the measures he has taken or intends to take to deliver on that timeframe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16529/06]
67 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport his proposals for the expansion of the capacity and frequency of Dublin bus services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16527/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 66 and 67 together.
The Department of Transport is considering an application from Dublin Bus for funding for 200 additional buses to be delivered in 2006 and 2007. The application is being considered in the context of Transport 21, the bus network review completed recently by Dublin Bus and the bus market reform process. I expect to make a decision shortly on the application having regard to the outcome of my deliberations on bus market reforms.
The Dublin Bus network review, completed recently by Martin Voorhees Associates, MVA, for Dublin Bus, demonstrates the continuing key role of the bus in meeting Dublin's transport needs. It also provides a comprehensive assessment of the challenges facing the bus service arising from traffic congestion, growing peak-time demand and the perception of the service as fragmented and limited.
The review outlines a staged plan for the improvement of the network including the provision of additional buses on a phased basis commencing with 200 in 2006 and 2007. An application for funding for 200 buses is under consideration.
The review also proposes significant changes in the service including substantially more cross-city services, limited stop express services from outside the M50, high frequency orbital services and local self-contained networks in some of Dublin's larger towns. It also calls for radical additional traffic management and bus priority measures to favour bus movements.
Dublin Bus is consulting widely on the review with the Dublin local authorities, the Dublin Transport Office and the quality bus network office. Having regard to the outcome of this consultation process and developments in bus market reform, the Department will discuss with Dublin Bus and other interests how best to pursue the development of Dublin's bus network and services.
An early decision on this matter would be welcome. Fewer new routes have been developed in the orbital areas. Developing these would make a significant difference to public transport.
Will the 200 extra buses be for Dublin Bus only? Will there be any private sector developments? It seems there is a dispute between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats as to the extent the Dublin Bus network will be privatised. Does the Minister expect to see the 200 additional buses introduced this year?
The review identified a further 200 buses for a second round of bus route development. It also identified deficiencies in depot spaces. Will this be considered along with the introduction of the additional 200 new buses? Problems with terminus and depot space will affect the smooth functioning of these badly needed services.
I have no plans to privatise, or even part-privatise, Dublin Bus. I agree with the Deputy that there are opportunities with the orbital and other routes into Dublin city centre. Transport 21 provides for a 60% increase in the number of buses operating in Dublin. Other factors feeding into that are all different parties to the delivery of bus transport as a passenger mode in and around Dublin. We are agreed there should be market reform and the 1932 Act must be amended. Much progress has been made in this. I hope to go to Government during this session with the final outcomes of those deliberations. There has been a positive response to the application before us and new buses will go into the market this year in reply to the package applied for by Dublin Bus.
I will deal with all those issues in the round shortly. Dublin Bus is in discussions with the local authorities, the DTO and the quality bus network project office on foot of the review and those inputs are important.
Ten years ago Dublin Bus had just less than 1,000 buses. Now it has just over 1,000 buses despite the fact that the population has gone up by over 250,000 and geographically Dublin has grown beyond recognition. This increased demand, however, is completely unmet. Yesterday the south side of Dublin experienced total gridlock — traffic in the city is on a knife-edge and there is a need for dramatic action. The Minister always said he was waiting for the Dublin Bus review to grant more buses to the company and to make a decision about competition. Now he has the review and there is no excuse for further procrastination. Some buses will be allocated but will Dublin Bus get the 200 buses it requested by the end of next year, with a further 200 by 2009? They must be ordered now if they are to be available.
I am sceptical because the report commissioned in 2001 and paid for by the taxpayer stated that an additional 500 buses were required by this year but only a handful of buses have been allocated. There is gridlock in the city and the gap between the supply of and demand for public transport is growing. Will there be an early decision about competition and the allocation of buses to Dublin Bus?
The Deputy is right about the number of buses but capacity in Dublin Bus has increased by over 40% in the past few years. The type of bus the company is now using has a much greater capacity than those that were used eight or nine years ago. While the numbers have increased marginally, the capacity to deliver passengers around Dublin has increased by over 40%.
The second point is valid. All the issues have been examined and I have largely completed the necessary discussions. I want to see not alone the 200 buses required going to Dublin Bus but the private sector adding significantly to that capacity. That is part of the market opening process. We are close to the end game in these issues and I want to bring them to a conclusion very quickly during this session. We are focused on outcomes and the one we want most is for passengers. We want to ensure that the bus is seen as an alternative to the car, and quality bus corridors have an important role to play in that regard.
I welcome that if it happens as the Minister outlines. On the detail of the review, and understanding why Dublin Bus will concentrate on high capacity routes that have quality bus corridors, it will be at the expense of many new residential areas around Dublin. In my constituency there are areas where thousands of houses have been built without a single bus route. They do not have a quality bus corridor and they will not have one. Effectively these areas are being ignored by Dublin Bus.
By adopting this approach, Dublin Bus is cherry-picking routes in advance of competition and leaving the less productive routes to the private sector. Is it still the Minister's intention that only 15% of new routes will be made available to the private sector? That is the same as doing nothing at all. Dublin Bus has squatted on routes so that no new routes remain to be provided. If a bus is provided in the morning and one in the evening, so far as the company is concerned, that is its route.
There is a need for the Minister to be proactive to ensure the newer areas around Dublin are not ignored simply because they do not have a quality bus corridor. Traffic congestion inhibits the provision of public transport as far as Dublin Bus is concerned. It is a chicken and egg situation. If there is too much traffic, Dublin Bus will not put on a bus and if a bus is not provided, there will always be too much traffic. Somebody needs to be proactive to ensure services are provided where they are required rather than where it suits Dublin Bus to provide them.
While I agree with the Deputy I do not want all the new services to be provided on the basis that they will operate only on quality bus corridors. That would leave a huge proportion of the population of an expanding Dublin without a good quality bus service. I would expect and demand of Dublin Bus that it service the market, as it has always done, in a general sense. The private sector, in conjunction with Dublin Bus, can add a great deal of capacity. One of the issues that has been raised consistently with me is connectivity on the orbital side. Not everybody who gets on a bus wants to come into the centre of Dublin. There is a good deal of orbital business available.
The Deputy mentioned capacity. Having discussed this with the private sector in this country and internationally, I want to guarantee a substantial tranche of growth in the market to the private sector. In other words, from now on a certain percentage must go to the private sector so that it does not have to compete with the State companies and so that it gets a guaranteed foothold in the market. That is part of the negotiations. I am not sure if the Deputy's interpretation of what I am doing is exactly that. That is the way forward. I have had discussions with the unions in Dublin Bus. All accept there must be an opening of the market but it must be done in a way that will get private sector capacity into the market and give it the confidence to make substantial investment in what is an expensive capital intensive business. We are close to that position.
The Minister said a number of buses would be put in place in 2006. Given that he is in dialogue with Dublin Bus, has he any indication of how many buses will be put in place and the lead-in time for same? The report identifies issues such as depot space. Clearly it is not just a question of putting buses on the road; the other infrastructure is also required. It is desperately difficult to find space in the city centre for a bus terminus. There have been similar problems in north Kildare. That issue will have to be addressed if the service is to function smoothly.
A point was made about outlying areas. I hope Dublin Bus will be in contact not only with the Dublin local authorities but also with Kildare County Council given that Dublin Bus serves that area. While a service is provided in those areas, there is significant additional potential given that these are the people who are most likely to end up in their cars because they have the longest journey. Therefore, there is a greater incentive for the provision of a new bus service along new routes. I hope they will get the priority to which the Minister referred.
The plan is to provide 100 additional buses in 2006 and a further 100 buses in 2007. I hope we can deliver. I agree with much of what the Deputy said. I have a view on this but it is not something I have discussed at any length. There should be a new national bus terminus on the perimeter of Dublin. All inter-city connectivity coming to Dublin should go to a major new terminus outside Dublin which would redistribute people going to all the different areas of Dublin. It is not true that everybody travelling on an inter-city coach into Dublin wants to end up in O'Connell Street or in Busaras. While that is a matter for the future I would like to see it as part of the plan that there would be a new major national bus terminus for all inter-city traffic on the periphery of Dublin, where passengers would be redistributed to all the different points to which people want to go: north, south, east, west and city centre Dublin. That issue should be considered for the future.
68 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport his proposals to safeguard national transport interests in the context of the proposed sale of Aer Lingus. [16564/06]
The decision to dispose of a majority shareholding in Aer Lingus was made following detailed and comprehensive consideration of the issue by me and my colleagues in Government. The Government agreed in its decision that the strategic development of the State airports and Aer Lingus was essential to underpin Ireland's competitiveness, industry and tourism. Furthermore, its consideration was based on an acknowledgement that the company had an immediate need for access to equity capital to enable it to compete effectively and fund growth and that this investment could and should not come from the Government. It is precisely because of national transport interests that a third party investment is sought. Without third party investment, there would be a far greater threat to these interests.
The Government also decided it would retain a significant stake of at least 25.1% to protect key strategic interests. This level of shareholding is significant in that provisions in company law will allow the State's interests to be protected while it retains a shareholding at this level. A shareholding of 25.1% in a public company is a major voting block and will ensure the State has significant influence. It will provide a strong basis on which to establish board representation which, in turn, will provide key access to information and influence on the key strategic and commercial decisions of the company.
A 25.1% shareholding also entitles the registered holder to deny the remaining shareholders the ability to pass special resolutions, for example, as required to change any terms of the memorandum and articles of association. Ownership of more than 20% of the issued share capital of a company also enables the registered holder to deny the right of third parties to compulsorily acquire 100% of the company.
The Minister for Finance and I appointed corporate finance and legal advisers on a third party investment in Aer Lingus. In their report on the nature, scale and timing of an investment transaction, the advisers considered the possible need for any measures going beyond the retention of a 25.1% shareholding to protect strategic interests. In the case of landing slots at Heathrow airport, the advisers suggest that some additional measures may be desirable to ensure the slots remain available for the provision of a reasonable level of service to and from Ireland. I am considering the manner in which such protection might be implemented in practice. Any measures that could restrict the commercial freedom of the company would have to be in accordance with the relevant EU rules.
The public's main concern in respect of the proposed sale of a majority holding in Aer Lingus is the threat this poses to the existing services Aer Lingus provides. We recognise we have been lucky with these services, which almost give us direct access to the centre of London through the Heathrow slots. While we can get to Stansted more cheaply, the accessibility of Heathrow to London is important for Irish travellers. Given there are over 20 flights to London every day, accessibility to the city centre is a critical issue.
The Heathrow slots also provide direct access to almost everywhere else in the world through the onward flights Aer Lingus has managed to arrange over many years. In the context of a privatised Aer Lingus, the main concern is that there is no guarantee these services will continue because we cannot ensure Aer Lingus holds onto the slots. Perhaps the new owners will decide it is expedient to sweat their assets and to cash in their chips as quickly as possible. The Heathrow slots would be a valuable sale commodity in that regard.
In the initial stages of the Government announcement of its intention to go ahead with the privatisation of Aer Lingus, the Minister mentioned the notion of a "golden share". He now accepts this is no longer regarded as legal. A spokesperson for Commissioner McCreevy said recently that golden shares have no place in the European Union Internal Market. When the Minister accepted that golden shares would no longer be legal he changed his language and spoke about a "blocking" share. Under existing company law provisions I do not know what strength a blocking share of 25.1% would give the Minister. It would allow him to prevent a 100% takeover, but that is not the issue.
The big danger is that those with a majority holding within Aer Lingus could, at some point in the future, decide to sell the slots or sell the brand and get rid of the shamrock. We do not know what will happen. The point is there is no way of ensuring Irish control of our national airline can be retained. Anything could happen in the future and generally speaking, where venture capitalists are involved, which may be the case, their intention will be to get in, get as much out of the company as quickly as possible and get out. In that context, valuable holdings like the Heathrow slots are in real danger and it has been accepted on all sides of the House that there is no way of safeguarding those.
The Minister's advisers, Goldman Sachs, who advised him on the future of the company when he set down the stipulation that they were to consider anything bar State investment in the company, said partial divestment, as they called it, would only make sense commercially if it was a precursor to full privatisation. Where does the Minister stand now in respect of that advice? Is it his intention to divest himself entirely of the holding in future? If not, will the Minister tell the House how he proposes to retain the 25.1% shareholding in the context of future share issues where it is inevitable——
I remind the Deputy that the time allowed for this question has expired.
——that shareholding will be diluted? Will the Minister explain that?
The Deputy is trying to put words in my mouth as usual. I never used the term "golden share" in this debate over the past 12 months.
It was used by the Minister's Department. It was used by several backbenchers on the Minister's side of the House.
I never used the phrase "golden share" from the start to the finish of this debate. I have not used the term "blocking share" in this debate. Those are the Deputy's words, not mine. I have spoken about the State keeping a shareholding in a company that is very substantial, the same as any other company or investor keeps a shareholding of substance in a company, and the public is well aware of that.
There is no safeguard.
Does the Deputy want me to answer the question? I have made it clear that the minimum the State will hold onto is 25.1%. It could be somewhat more than that; we will have to await the outcome. As far as the Government is concerned at this stage, the State is quite clear in that we will retain that share in Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus is now on a path for growth. We are not going for a trade sale, which would embody many of the concerns the Deputy has enunciated where another company in the business might come in, take a large shareholding in Aer Lingus and then strip the assets or sweat them, as the Deputy described it, for its own competitive advantage. Investors will invest in Aer Lingus because commercially it will be a good investment. I do not see them undermining that investment by selling the brand or undermining the Heathrow slots. To my knowledge, even though Aer Lingus is in State holding, I do not believe Aer Lingus travels to London on the basis of anything other than a commercial reality. In other words, there is a demand for the slots. I do not take the same view that Irish people will not want to go there anymore. That is something new to the debate as far as I am concerned.
I did not say that.
I said they will not be able to.
Of course they will. Aer Lingus, and anybody who owns an involvement in Aer Lingus, will want to make sure the company is as viable commercially as it has always been and will be more commercially successful into the future.
The Deputy makes an interesting point. The world has changed dramatically. Aer Lingus and the Heathrow slots had a much higher value when there were no other airport operations in, say, France, Germany and elsewhere like the hubs that exist now. There is huge competition to Heathrow and an interesting example is the Irish dynamic where we have direct flights to the Middle East. That takes many passengers and requirements out of Heathrow and it is my determination that we will have direct flights and increased capacity into the United States, which will mean Irish people will be able to fly direct from Ireland to many more destinations in America without having to go to Heathrow. I sincerely hope, as other countries have indicated to me, that there will be direct flights to China, Singapore, Thailand and Australia. This has implications for Heathrow because — the Deputy is right — there will not be the volume of passengers who have to go to Heathrow to get connecting flights if there are direct connecting flights from Dublin. There is no doubt that changes the dynamic but I do not see the volume of traffic to Heathrow, in terms of what Aer Lingus does currently, diminishing because there is constant demand for that volume of traffic and I expect that to continue long into the future.
That concludes Priority Questions. We will now take other questions, which are subject to a maximum of six minutes. Supplementary questions and answers are subject to a maximum of one minute, as stated in Standing Orders.
May I ask another supplementary question?
We have spent 45 minutes on Priority Questions, far in excess of the time allowed, which is 30 minutes.
More time was spent on other questions than is allowed.
Deputy Shortall devoted ten minutes to a question with an allowed time of six minutes. We must proceed because it is unfair to Deputies waiting to ask questions if Deputies who are higher up the list take up more than their allotted time.