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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 30 Jun 2009

Vol. 686 No. 2

Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputies will be aware that this Bill was initiated in Seanad Éireann on 9 June and was passed there on 16 June. I wish to acknowledge the amendments that were made to the Bill during its passage in that House and I believe the Bill has improved as a result. I propose to bring forward two further amendments on Committee Stage here, the subject matter of which initially arose in the Seanad. I gave an undertaking in at least one case that we would deal with the matter in this House.

The purpose of the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 is to give legal effect to a landmark intergovernmental agreement reached last November between Ireland and the United States of America on air transport preclearance. Air transport preclearance means that passengers of US bound flights from Ireland can be fully cleared for entry to the US in respect of all necessary US controls and checks, including US immigration, customs, agriculture and security prior to departure. That will allow aircraft to land at any US airport and will facilitate easy onward connectivity to all points within the United States.

Preclearance is a very significant development for Irish aviation. As well as improving the passenger experience for those travelling to the US, preclearance should, over time, contribute significantly to the growth of new business for Irish airports as airlines take advantage of unique opportunities arising from access to a wider range of airports in the US.

Preclearance for commercial aircraft is due to commence at Shannon on 29 July next and for private aircraft there in September. Preclearance is due to be introduced at Dublin airport when terminal 2 opens next year.

Preclearance is the process whereby all inspection and clearance requirements under US laws for travellers arriving into the US are carried out at the departing airport. Such passengers arriving at US airports are then processed without any further official contact. On arrival at the US airport they will have a status similar to that of passengers arriving from another US airport.

For passengers the benefits are that they are processed through all US entry procedures before they travel and knowing that when they arrive at their destination, they will have an uninterrupted passage through the US airport. In addition, passengers will be able to travel onward to other US destinations while remaining airside thereby obviating the need for further security and baggage checks.

For the airport authority the benefit is that they will now be able to market its airport as a hub for US bound flights having these preclearance advantages. This service is not on offer to any other European country.

The recent announcement by Delta and Aer Lingus of the suspension of a number of transatlantic services from Shannon for the winter season is very disappointing news, especially in the context of preclearance commencing there in a matter of weeks. While my initial concerns, on hearing of these decisions, related to the economic impact they would have on business and tourism in the region, I was also concerned that a reduction in transatlantic services could generate a negative response from the US side in regard to the introduction of preclearance. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting the US Secretary for Homeland Security, Ms Janet Napolitano, for discussions on preclearance and had the opportunity of putting that point to her. I was glad to receive her reassurance that the US is committed to preclearance for Ireland and the commitment will not be affected by the suspension of some winter services to the US.

Both Ireland and the US expect the level of transatlantic flights to be precleared at Shannon will increase over time once the advantages that preclearance brings become clear to all airlines. The introduction of preclearance in Shannon Airport this summer is not only a vote of confidence in its current position as a key Irish airport. It is also an investment for the future to position Ireland to take maximum advantage of the aviation opportunities that will arise when the world economy climbs out of the current recession. I am reinforced in that view because I understand the US authorities have no plans to introduce similar facilities elsewhere in Europe. This provides Irish airports with a unique marketing opportunity in attracting airlines and creating new business in the key transatlantic aviation market.

Under this legislation, US preclearance officers in Ireland will be empowered to carry out their duties in dealing with requests for entry into the US. In other words, the only powers to be exercised by preclearance officers at Dublin and Shannon Airports will derive from this legislation and will only be exercisable within clearly defined preclearance areas. Other powers assigned to preclearance officers in the United States are derived from US law but these are not exercisable in Ireland in the performance of preclearance duties.

The preclearance agreement with the United States, on which this legislation is based, was drafted in close co-operation with the Office of the Attorney General to ensure it is consistent with the Irish Constitution. Accordingly, only the laws of Ireland will apply at all times in the preclearance facility and the various preclearance areas. The only powers that can be exercised by a preclearance officer are those created by the Oireachtas under this legislation.

The transatlantic aviation market is of enormous strategic, economic and cultural importance to Ireland. However, the ongoing global recession and high aviation fuel costs are having a seriously negative impact on the industry. Consumer demand for air travel has fallen sharply in recent months and transatlantic traffic is being hit particularly hard this year. The challenge is to ensure Irish aviation is well positioned to take advantage of the economic recovery when that comes. In that context the full potential of preclearance can be realised, including the promotion of Irish airports as hubs for in-transit preclearance.

Several outside expressions of interest in preclearance have been made. British Airways has announced that from the autumn it will be operating a business class only service from London City Airport to the US with a stopover at Shannon, precisely for the purpose of taking advantage of the preclearance services there. Initially this will be a once-daily service which will expand to a twice-daily service in a matter of weeks. Preclearance is also being introduced at Shannon for private US-bound aircraft from September next. Similar to the interest shown by commercial aviation, we can expect an increase in private and business aircraft routing through Shannon to take advantage of preclearance. Each additional aircraft routing through Shannon for preclearance will create a positive commercial impact on the airport and the surrounding regional economy.

Under this legislation, preclearance officers of the US Customs and Border Protection Service will be authorised to carry out certain functions with passengers and aircraft bound for the US at designated preclearance areas of Irish airports that would otherwise be carried out on arrival in the US. The functions of preclearance officers in Ireland shall include the inspection of individuals, their goods and aircraft, the searching of individuals, with the assistance of a member of An Garda Síochána in certain circumstances, and the holding of individuals, where the circumstances warrant it, pending the arrival of a member of An Garda Síochána who would then take charge.

Where, during the course of an inspection, a preclearance officer discovers an item the possession of which constitutes an offence under Irish law, the preclearance officer would seek the assistance of an Irish law enforcement officer. If a situation arises where goods need to be seized, they shall be seized by an Irish law enforcement officer. The Bill makes provision for a right of appeal in situations where goods have been seized.

The necessary preclearance facilities will be provided by the airport authority and the costs recovered from the participating airlines through a passenger charge.

When negotiating the agreement, both sides saw the merit in not including in the agreement, the details of operational procedures for the practical implementation of preclearance on the ground. It was decided that these would be negotiated separately between the parties and agreed before implementing preclearance.

Section 1 provides for the interpretation of the Act. Section 2 enables the Minister to make regulations designating preclearance areas at the airports. In such areas US preclearance officers would be able to undertake necessary procedures to grant preclearance to passengers seeking entry to the US and necessary security safeguards would be implemented.

Section 3 outlines the duties and responsibilities of travellers in the preclearance area such as an obligation to provide an accurate written declaration of all goods and to comply with the lawful requirements of an Irish law enforcement officer or a preclearance officer. Failure to adhere to such obligations constitutes an offence. Seanad Éireann adopted an amendment to this section which provides that it shall be a good defence to show that one had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her declaration was duly made in accordance with this section.

Section 4 provides the traveller with a right to withdraw from the preclearance area at any time, subject to certain exceptions relating to threatening or obstructive behaviour by the traveller or where a person is suspected of committing an offence under Irish law.

Section 5 outlines the functions of preclearance officers when processing applications for preclearance, including powers to search a traveller and his goods with his consent and to search a person and his goods in the preclearance area without warrant when suspected of posing an immediate threat. Preclearance officers may also detain a person or private aircraft where an offence is suspected and to forthwith deliver that person or private aircraft into the custody of an Irish law enforcement officer to be dealt with in accordance with Irish law. Subject to section 5(4), preclearance officers may also detain goods, which are not accurately declared by a traveller and forthwith deliver them to an Irish law enforcement officer for the purposes of sections 8 to 10, inclusive, which deal with a special procedure for seizure and detention of goods to be administered by the Revenue Commissioners. Under section 5(5) preclearance officers, as a condition for the grant of preclearance, may require the traveller to pay a sum of money that would be payable by that traveller on postclearance in respect of any particular goods or to surrender the goods.

Section 6 sets out the functions of Irish law enforcement officers in the preclearance area where a person is suspected of making a false declaration of goods, or is in possession of goods that is controlled or prohibited in the State, or if the person is suspected of otherwise posing a threat to persons in the preclearance area. An Irish law enforcement officer may search the person without warrant and detain the person for such time as is reasonably necessary for carrying out the search subject to certain provisions. An Irish law enforcement officer may examine, seize or detain anything found in the course of the search that might be required as evidence in a prosecution. Section 6(6) provides the powers granted under section 6 shall not prejudice other powers exercised by Irish law enforcement officers to search or to seize or detain goods.

Section 7 restricts entry into the preclearance area to preclearance officers, travellers and other authorised personnel. It also sets out the powers enjoyed by preclearance officers and Irish law enforcement officers in the interests of security and the proper functioning of the preclearance area. It empowers such officers to ask a person to leave the preclearance area in certain circumstances. A person who contravenes this provision shall be guilty of an offence. Sections 8 to 10 provide for the seizure of goods not declared or falsely declared, the procedures for making a claim to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of goods seized and the procedures to be followed by the Revenue Commissioners in the event of the seizure of goods and the processing of claims by the Revenue Commissioners.

Section 11 provides that the responsibility for costs incurred in respect of transit passengers who are refused preclearance are to be borne by the air carrier. The air carrier may recoup the costs from the traveller. Section 12 clarifies the status of in-transit preclearance travellers under the Aliens Act 1935 and the Immigration Act 2004. Section 13 provides for privileges and immunities to be enjoyed by citizens of the United States who are assigned to carry out preclearance functions in the State under this Act. In line with Article IV(4) of the relevant agreement, section 13(6) enables any person who would be precluded from suing the US authorities because of immunity granted under this section, to sue the Minister.

Section 14 empowers an airport authority to charge fees to air carriers availing of preclearance. Section 15 is a standard provision relating to the power of the Minister to incur expenses in the administration of the Act. Section 16 gives the Minister the power to make general regulations as necessary to give effect to the Act and agreement and to make regulations to ensure the integrity, security and proper functioning of preclearance areas. Sections 17 and 18 provide for the offences and penalties to be applied under the Act. Section 17 was amended in the Seanad to ensure that the penalty for assaulting a member of the Garda Síochána is no less than the penalty already provided for in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. Sections 19 to 21 provide for the repeal of the Air Navigation and Transport (Preinspection) Act 1986, a minor amendment to the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and for the Short Title and commencement of the Act.

I have given a general overview of the Bill before the House, which does not have significant financial or staffing implications for the Exchequer. The potential of the legislation, in so far as job creation and the long-term economic benefits for Ireland are concerned, is obvious. Preclearance will give the aviation industry an opportunity to develop business in this country's key international gateways. While the immediate challenge will be to weather the current recession, I firmly believe all international airlines will fully embrace this unique opportunity to increase their business over the long term. This is an important development for our State airports, particularly Shannon Airport where preclearance will be introduced a full year ahead of Dublin Airport. I urge the airport authorities to fully utilise the unique marketing advantage they will have. Good international air access is a key factor in mitigating the impact of Ireland's peripheral location. I refer in particular to that of the west of Ireland. This is even more important in these recessionary times. Growth in air transport links has played a significant part in our economic success since the mid-1990s. This initiative will help to ensure that air transport plays an even greater role in our economic recovery. I commend the Bill to the House.

I would like to share time with Deputies Joe Carey and Pat Breen.

Fine Gael supports this Bill, the principles of which have received strong endorsement from my colleagues in County Clare, County Limerick and the rest of the mid-west region. As a result of this legislation, which provides for the creation of preclearance areas in Dublin and Shannon airports, passengers at those airports will be able to pass through US customs, immigration and security checks in Ireland before they depart for the United States. It is anticipated that this measure will have a positive effect on the travelling experiences of such people. It will benefit Dublin and Shannon Airports, in particular, while improving the tourism and general infrastructures of those areas. I hope this Bill will allow Shannon Airport to develop as a much more dynamic hub. It may well become a European centre for low-cost flying. Low-cost operators might be able to fly into Shannon, secure preclearance and move on to airports in the US that do not currently need customs clearance. In other words, people might be able to go to the US as if they were going on an internal flight.

The Bill before the House should bring about significant cost savings for carriers that fly into airports other than the major ones about which we are well used to hearing — the New York airports, for example — and should benefit the tourism and business sectors in the mid-west region. It is important that agreement has been reached to provide full preclearance facilities at Dublin and Shannon airports, as it will benefit both airports. This exclusive agreement between the United States and Ireland gives a crucial competitive advantage to Ireland's two main airports, by comparison with airports in the rest of Europe. I note the Minister's comments in that regard. I hope the Government will insist on the full development of this new arrangement, for example by engaging in a serious and sustained marketing campaign, aimed at European and international airlines and tourism markets.

I thank the research unit of the Oireachtas Library for giving me information on passenger numbers at Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports between 2004 and 2008. The number of passengers going through Shannon Airport dropped from 3.6 million in 2007 to 3.1 million in 2008. The number of transatlantic passengers using the airport decreased from 746,000 in 2007 to 574,000 in 2008. The significant marked decline in the number of passengers going through Shannon Airport has clearly had a significant downstream impact on jobs and services in the area. The airport's overall passenger numbers decreased by 12.5% between 2007 and 2008, while transatlantic passenger numbers fell by 23% during the same period. The importance of the transatlantic routes to Shannon Airport is apparent from the share of passenger traffic accounted for by such routes. In 2007, for example, transatlantic passengers accounted for 21% of total passenger traffic from Shannon Airport. I note the Minister's comments about Aer Lingus's intention to withdraw some of its services from Shannon Airport. I refer in particular to the New York service. Following sustained local and national pressure, the airline has agreed to continue the services for a period of time. The Minister mentioned that he was concerned about the impact such a withdrawal might have had on this entire proposal. Following his meeting with the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, he said he was happy that this commitment continues to be in place.

It is important that we consider this legislation as a mark of the historic and good relationship between Ireland and the US over many years. I understand that a delegation from the US Congress is visiting the Oireachtas today. The members of the delegation are very welcome. It is important that Ireland has historically had such a close relationship with the US. My brother, Niall O'Dowd, has met many of the key decision-makers in the US. He encourages and supports the ongoing commercial and business relationship between the two countries. The Bill under discussion is a testament to the value the US puts on its relationship with a small country like Ireland. It demonstrates the importance the US authorities attach to the relations between the two countries. We can fly it as a flag of recognition of that relationship. I hope it will continue and that there are benefits, not just for the Irish people but also for the United States.

The US Homeland Security Secretary, Mr. Michael Chertoff, identified the following benefits for the United States, and I quote:

We are continually working to identify and mitigate threats before they can reach our shores . . . This agreement will move the screening of certain commercial and private air passenger flights overseas, and as a result make the entry process into the U.S. more secure and efficient upon arrival.

The major benefit for Ireland, in terms of passengers passing through the country, is that once the new preclearance facilities are in place, US-bound passengers out of Shannon and Dublin Airports will have uninterrupted passage to US airports on arrival — and all US customs, immigration and agriculture clearance will now be completed before passengers leave Ireland. Currently, only US immigration facilities are available at both airports. Passengers will now be able to check their baggage through Shannon and Dublin to their final destination in the US, even where this might involve two flights with different airlines. Some of us have had the experience of believing that our baggage was going through only to find when arriving in New York that we could not embark on the second aircraft because our bags had not arrived. This is important and is a very big plus.

The explanatory and financial memorandum states that the Bill does not have significant financial or staffing implications for the Exchequer. It does not, however, provide any detailed costings to support this statement and no regulatory impact analysis, RIA document, regarding the Bill has been published. Perhaps the Minister will explain and expand on this on Committee Stage. We very much favour the Bill, but in the interests of transparency and openness, we need to know more about it.

Additional responsibilities will arise for the Garda Síochána and for Revenue officials, which are to be met from within existing sources. Some of those additional responsibilities may include assisting preclearance officers to conduct searches on passengers, goods and aircraft; proving adequate security measures in the light of a potential increase in passenger numbers; and considering actions against the State by a person who is precluded from taking an action against a preclearance officer. There are significant costs there which the Minister might comment on.

The Bill allows a levy to be placed on aircraft users by the operating airport. There are some indications regarding the length of preparation that will be required to substitute the preclearance facilities for the previous pre-inspection activities. An article in the Irish Examiner estimated the cost at approximately €20 million in terms of the total cost of all these new services. Again, I would emphasise our support for the Bill while asking the Minister to comment on that.

According to Shannon Airport's schedule of miscellaneous charges for 2009 the charges to airlines for the use of enhanced facilities will increase more than sixfold. The current charge is €1.51 per passenger and this may increase to €10.50 per head. I would ask the Minister to comment on those issues.

I have one final point to raise. Some issues will militate against certain Irish people gaining entry to the United States, whether through this or any other means. If somebody is involved in an inadvertent or small breach of regulations, for instance in regard to filling in a fishing log or whatever, because this is deemed to be criminal office, that at present means the person concerned can be denied admission to the US because of the charge recorded against him or her in terms of the law. I appreciate this is not the specific legislation for dealing with such questions and I am aware Deputy Jim O'Keeffe has published a Bill that seeks to address this issue where clearly, very minor infringements of some rules and regulations debar people with resulting criminal convictions from entry into the US. Will the Minister say whether the Government intends to address these issues in the near future or to support Deputy O'Keeffe's Bill?

At the outset I put on the record my warm support for this legislation which will establish the first full US preclearance facility in Shannon Airport, County Clare. New sources of growth will be required in any Irish economic recovery. This Bill, as a landmark in the development of Irish aviation, could offer the type of potential required for us to regain some of our international economic competitiveness. However, it will only happen if the facility at Shannon Airport is developed and marketed properly and not merely regarded as a conclusion to a process in itself.

This legislation should not be regarded by the powers-that-be as a conclusion to proper balanced regional development. It is the first step in beginning to redress the grotesque imbalance that has occurred between Dublin and Shannon, our two transatlantic airports, over the past number of years. Despite the fact that over one third of Irish economic activity takes place in the west of the country, Dublin Airport accounts for 78% of overall passenger activity, according to 2008 figures, and 75% of transatlantic passenger activity.

Shannon Airport's strategic geographical location offers enormous potential as a bridge between east and west for the future. This new facility at Shannon can realise the potential the region has in creating a link between many of the world's airlines and the USA. This can only happen if the Government goes back to its spatial strategy and produces more meaningful plans on regional development. The new preclearance facility in conjunction with the fact that Shannon is a 24/7 airport and maintains a competitive edge in fuel pricing, augurs well for the future of the region if attention is given by the Government to properly balanced regional development.

This legislation and the service it underpins must not just merely be a means to an end. It must not just be used as an excuse to keep the people of the mid-west and the west on-side and happy for a short period of time. It must form the foundation for a new set of ideas, a new set of innovations and a new attitude towards properly balanced and sustainable regional development and not merely the "one for everybody in the audience" philosophy that has been the attitude towards regional development heretofore.

Transatlantic services have been historically important to Shannon Airport and by extension the economic potential of the mid-west and west regions. Transatlantic passengers have formed up to 21% of all traffic through Shannon Airport. Transatlantic numbers through Dublin Airport peaked in 2008 at 7.4% of all passengers through the airport. It is clear that euro for euro, transatlantic activity has a much more significant impact on the future of Shannon and the mid-west region than it does for Dublin. The introduction of open skies last year has had a profound effect on the ability of an airport such as Shannon to survive and contribute as the engine of properly balanced economic regional development. The preclearance facility proposed will offer Shannon an effective marketing tool for the future.

I hope we do not have a repeat of the marketing budget fiasco of last year's post-open skies plan when an initial €53 million promise became a more modest €5 million reality. Since the introduction of open skies in March 2008, the increase in transatlantic passenger numbers through Dublin almost matches the decrease in Shannon. In the interests of proper and effective regional development the State cannot allow this pattern continue. The Government may try to absolve itself of its responsibilities, claim no jurisdiction and generally stand back as it did on the Shannon-Heathrow service but it must in the future, if any lessons have been learnt, take a more progressive and interactive approach towards ensuring sustainable regional development. This preclearance facility is a small but significant step forward. It can, if marketed and sold properly, offer an opportunity for Shannon and the greater region.

It is time the Minister got real on the €10 travel tax introduced in the recent budget. This tax is having a devastating effect on Shannon Airport. Ryanair has effectively halved its service. It used to have six aeroplanes based in Shannon and now has only three. A €10 charge represents a 100% tax on the average Ryanair winter fare out of Shannon. I appeal to the Minister to re-examine the €10 travel tax, to walk away. He should make it more equitable by making it a percentage of the air fare. It is not right that he subjects the cost-sensitive traveller to this. He is driving much needed business away from Shannon.

Why not call Ryanair's bluff if the Minister does not believe it will restore these aeroplanes and routes if the travel tax is axed? Governments across Europe, in Belgium for example, quickly withdrew their travel tax because of the negative impact it was having on their tourism trade. There was a similar experience in the Netherlands. Ireland is an island nation that depends heavily on air navigation to support our tourist market and business interests. We can ill afford a travel tax. In the interest of balanced regional development, and in the interest of Shannon Airport, the Minister should withdraw this tax. He cannot tax the airline industry out of recession. I again ask the Minister to remove this devastating tax before it causes further damage to our tourism industry.

The Government should seriously examine broader connectivity issues for Shannon regarding rail links with Limerick city and consequentially the national rail network. The Government must work on improving infrastructure. We have to pull up our socks regarding broadband throughout the region and improve our road network and sea ports, and all the measures that can get people and goods moving quickly. That is very important. This is what makes for a very attractive base for foreign direct investment, from which Shannon and the mid-west region has benefited greatly in the recent past and through the decades. As we found out last week, the Government has allowed this aspect of its management to slide with disastrous consequences.

I do not in any way want to be negative about this legislation but it merely offers Shannon, at most, an 18-month competitive advantage over Dublin. We can see from the published Dublin Airport Authority figures the manner in which Dublin Airport is slowly undermining Shannon. I make no apology about the fact that Shannon Airport, as an engine for a significant region of the country, needs the Government to ensure that it is properly served from a supporting infrastructure point of view. The issue of autonomy for the Shannon Airport Authority will and should come onto the political agenda. It is outrageous that Shannon Airport must always have one eye looking towards Dublin and the DAA, which to all intents and purposes is its competitor, before it can make a decision.

Shannon has always had to fight its corner. The calibre of men such as the late Dr. Brendan O'Regan and the now retired Mr. Liam Skelly of Aer Rianta, have ensured that despite external pressures, Shannon has always been a centre of innovation regarding air travel and associated economic activity. The current management team, led by Mr. Martin Moroney and supported by both the airport authority and Shannon Development can, if properly backed up in an unambiguous manner by the Government, build on this new development for Shannon Airport and the wider region. I welcome this legislation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation for the mid-west. The late Jim Mitchell, as Minister for Communications, placed the US pre-inspection legislation before this House in June 1986. This was to provide the legislative framework for the establishment of US immigration at Shannon Airport. At that time the aviation industry was in the midst of uncertainty. A series of international aviation terrorist incidents in 1985 and 1986 had put enormous pressure on the aviation sector. Against this backdrop the late Minister said in the Dáil, "This new situation makes it all the more necessary for us to take all possible measures to maximise the attraction of this country and its airport facilities to airlines flying between the US and Europe."

Some 23 years later the aviation sector is at a similar crossroads. That is why the introduction of this legislation here today and the extension of the US preclearance facility at Shannon Airport is so important in terms of positioning the airport for the future and ensuring it is best placed to challenge for new opportunities when there is an upturn in the fortunes of the aviation sector. While I would have liked to see this legislation come before this House a long ago, I very much welcome it this afternoon. I have always advocated and supported the setting up of the full US preclearance facility at Shannon Airport. I discussed this matter with the previous US ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Thomas Foley, who was very supportive of this development. I also met the previous US Secretary of Homeland Security, Mr. Michael Chertoff, when he was in Dublin and I understand that the Minister met the new Secretary of Homeland Security, Ms Janet Napolitano, in Shannon over the weekend. Her presence there was a very positive move.

Like Deputy Joe Carey I am disappointed however that the Government is persisting with the €10 air travel tax. The Minister should have availed of this legislation to include an addendum to review the tax now. Ryanair has already announced the axing of several routes from its winter schedule and this is not the time to introduce a new travel tax. People are not travelling and this tax is a further disincentive to travel.

As I have said, I am a strong supporter of the introduction of preclearance. This will be the first such facility in Europe and is an unique selling point, especially for Shannon Airport. In the wake of the introduction of EU-US open skies, the skies have fallen in on transatlantic business at Shannon. In 2008 transatlantic passengers through Shannon fell by a whopping 23%, a fall of more than 170,000 people to 570,000 people, while at Dublin Airport transatlantic traffic grew by 14% during 2008 with a record number of 1.8 million passengers. However, by the end of 2008, Dublin's share of transatlantic business had risen to 75% compared to Shannon at 25%. This decline at Shannon is set to continue with more cutbacks in US services on the way: Delta has pulled off the JFK route and Aer Lingus is dropping its Shannon-Chicago link with the future of its JFK remaining uncertain with the route "under review".

The future is far from certain at Shannon. The opportunities which will arise when this facility is in place must be exploited. For example, private jet traffic is set to take off in Shannon with anything up to 70 jets a day expected to avail of the facility, approximately 500 jets a week. The feedback from the general aviation sector is positive towards this project. In addition to the private jet traffic, there is an opportunity for low-cost transatlantic carriers operating from Shannon Airport. Transatlantic passengers who have cleared the facility at Shannon will be able to check their baggage all the way to their final destinations in the US. Domestic airports are generally cheaper for airlines to use, are less congested and make flying a much more pleasant experience for the passenger. This will help airlines reduce their costs and with freer access to aircraft stands in these US airports, it will help airlines to reduce the time their aircraft spend on the ground.

I am disappointed with one aspect of the legislation and the Minister might mention it in his reply. The legislation makes no mention of the provision of cargo preclearance at Shannon Airport. The Lynx Group, a global airport cargo facility company, signed a memorandum of understanding with Shannon Airport earlier this year, the result of which has the potential to develop Shannon Airport into a major international logistic hub and business facility for cargo. The way forward for Shannon Airport is joint ventures. Here we have an innovative American company which is willing to invest in the mid-west region.

We need to utilise best international practice and the Lynx Group is one of the world's best providers of expertise and resources in developing and managing cargo ports. It has its own ports and operates a wide variety of cargo facilities throughout the world. The CEO of the company, Ray Brimble, who is very positive about the future development at Shannon, has expressed the view that the provision of full US cargo preclearance "would be another significant strategic advantage for a major international cargo port at Shannon". There is no doubt that the possibility of having full US cargo preclearance has attracted a company like the Lynxs Group into Shannon region and we must not let this opportunity pass. We need to invest in cargo infrastructure at Shannon Airport, which is ideally located for companies as an access point between east and west, especially for companies wishing to expand into Europe. We need to have adequate facilities in the mid-west region so that we are in a position to provide a world class logistics facility and attract new industries to the region. Providing top class cargo facilities would especially help those involved in research and development and also the pharmaceutical industry where time is critical and items may have a short street life but a high value. I ask the Minister to support the expansion of this facility to include cargo preclearance and to initiate negotiations with the US Government with a view to expanding the preclearance facility at Shannon to include cargo at the earliest possible date.

The provision of full US preclearance is another first for Shannon Airport, an airport which has a proud history of firsts. It was the first transatlantic gateway. It had the first duty-free shop. It was where the Irish coffee was first made. I congratulate the management and staff of the airport for having the foresight to see the potential that this project offers and for rigorously pursuing it. In the 1950s and 1960s when Ireland was also in an economic crisis, that great aviation pioneer from County Clare the late Dr. Brendan O'Regan did not just sit back, but went into expansionist mode. He invested in a new runway and the Shannon Industrial Estate was born. He was motivated by the constant threat that Shannon would be over-flown. Little has changed in the intervening 50 years and the threat still remains. We need that same level of expansionist and innovative thinking now more than ever.

The Minister's task is not completed by just bringing this legislation through the House today. The Government must provide marketing support in the form of a ring-fenced budget to promote this facility. This is the only such facility available in Europe and the reality is that other airports in Europe like Paris-Charles de Gaulle or Frankfurt will be trying to put a similar facility in place at their own airports in coming years. We must capitalise on the window of opportunity we have and must ensure this unique facility is marketed and promoted throughout the world. This project has the potential to create jobs and attract industry to our region. It cannot be left to fly solo and requires a clear commitment of marketing funds from the Government. We were promised €53 million in the tourism and economic plan when the open skies policy was introduced but that has been whittled down to a €4.5 million regional marketing fund which is being spent on the Discover Ireland's "Wonderful West" programme overseen by Tourism Ireland.

We need an aggressive marketing campaign led by the Shannon Airport Authority and supported by Shannon Development targeted at both scheduled and general aviation airlines. For this campaign to succeed an investment by the Government of €200,000 for the next three years, which is not an unreasonable amount, would be appropriate. My fear is that without this targeted marketing campaign the true potential of this project will not be realised.

I support this legislation as does my party. I ask the Minister to address the issues which I have raised here. Later I will deal with some of the sections Deputy O'Dowd mentioned earlier. Section 6 outlines what will happen to passengers when they are refused entry into the US and when goods are seized. I hope the Minister will ensure that adequate resources will be made available to the Garda Síochána and Customs officers at Shannon Airport to deal with the additional workload.

Section 14 of deals with cost. Some €20 million has been invested in Shannon Airport. The charge will go from €1.50 to €10.50 per passenger. I ask the Minister to outline what the charge at Dublin Airport will be when this facility is provided there next year. Shannon Airport needs to have a lower rate if it is to compete as otherwise it would be at a major disadvantage. I welcome the legislation and hope it gets a speedy passage through the House tonight.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill which puts into legislative effect the November 2008 agreement between the Government and the US Government on air transport preclearance. I welcome the introduction of the Bill and strongly support the main objectives which will widen the scope of the provisions established under the Air Navigation and Transport (Preinspection) Act 1986. I would also like to be associated with the welcome for the new US Homeland Security Chief and former Arizona Governor, Janet Napolitano, who visited the Shannon preclearance facilities yesterday.

The legislation will facilitate a much more comprehensive screening and monitoring regime for passengers travelling to the US from Dublin and Shannon Airports, which will in turn allow passengers to move faster and more efficiently through a US airport when they touch down on the other side and give a significant advantage to Dublin and Shannon Airports in facilitating comprehensive preclearance facilities for passengers flying to the US from Europe. Given the serious challenges facing the aviation industry and the declining passenger numbers moving through Irish airports, I hope that the establishment of preclearance at Dublin and Shannon will attract more passengers, transit flights and especially jobs to these two critical airports.

I am often very critical of the Minister on many aspects of transport policy. However, I commend him and the Department on bringing this legislation forward within seven months of the agreement last November. The seven month time span must be a record for this Minister in the introduction of legislation. We have been waiting for more than two years for the road traffic Bill which we hope will contain key legislative provisions. Many people are waiting for it day by day with no sign of it. I welcome that he has brought this Bill before us tonight.

I note that section 21 indicates that the Act will "come into operation on such day or days as the Minister may appoint by order or orders either generally or with reference to any particular purpose (including a particular airport, or part of an airport) or provision and different days may be so appointed for different purposes and provisions". Last November and again today the Minister said he hoped the preclearance facilities would be in operation in Shannon Airport next month and in Dublin Airport in November 2010. Section 2 provides that the Minister may designate preclearance areas in a particular airport. If he designates specific parts of the airport, will the preclearance services remain continuously at that location? Will moving their location require regulation from the Minister? Our colleagues might be aware that terminal 2 at Dublin Airport will house the facility. Does the Minister still expect the deadlines for both airports to be met?

I also understand that before the Bill becomes law, diplomatic notes must be exchanged between the Governments of Ireland and the US. What issues will be addressed in the diplomatic notes? Are our diplomatic notes fully prepared? Will there be any consultation? Are there any outstanding security issues still to be addressed given that we are now dealing with the US Department of Homeland Security? What will be the immediate impact of the operation of the facilities on staffing levels in Shannon and Dublin Airport? Will most of the staff involved in the preclearance facilities be US Customs and Immigration Service officials? How many preclearance officers and related support staff will now be relocated to Dublin and Shannon Airports? I appreciate that there will be an economic spin-off from the work of those officers.

What will be status of the 2004 State Airports Act which broke up Aer Rianta and gave legal effect to the full separation of Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports? The decision of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and then Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, to break up Aer Rianta was strongly opposed by the Labour Party at the time. The subsequent shambles that has emerged under the Ministers, Deputies Cullen and Dempsey, since the separation of the three airports, the allocation of debts between them and the establishment of separate airport authorities for Cork and Shannon have created dreadful confusion and uncertainty for all three airports. Recent reports indicate that the separation of the airports will not now go ahead even though the legislation is in place and separate boards for Cork and Shannon have been established. I would like the Minister to address how the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 will affect the implementation of the 2004 Act and to state whether that Act will come into effect. The Labour Party believed Aer Rianta was doing a good job of allocating resources in terms of development of Shannon, Dublin and Cork Airports.

The Bill before us will repeal the Air Navigation and Transport (Preinspection) Act 1986 which facilitated the preinspection of passengers to the US from Dublin and Shannon. That Act allowed officials from the Department of Immigration and Naturalisation to invigilate all passengers in terms of INS immigration and public health requirements at Dublin and Shannon Airports. However, as the 1986 legislation states, preinspection does not include inspections required by other United States laws and regulations. As such, the Bill before us provides that passengers will now undergo a much more comprehensive range of checks at Dublin and Shannon Airports, including immigration, public health and customs and agricultural movements. Also, all aeroplanes will be screened for radiological and nuclear threats. Preclearance facilities at Dublin and Shannon will allow disembarking passengers to avoid time consuming procedures. This is particularly true given no other European airport offers preclearance facilities for the United States, which I believe are now only available at some Canadian and Caribbean airports.

The Canadian experience appears to have been positive. There are certain aspects of the US-Canadian agreement which we could emulate, one of which is the five year review which facilitates the operation of preclearance at eight Canadian airports, including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. The Canadian Government reports that approximately 11.7 million travellers have since the first preclearance facility commenced in 1952 enjoyed the benefits of preclearance through Canadian airports. I note that all of the preclearance facilities in Canada are subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadians also convene a preclearance consultative group. I wonder if we will have a similar body for the authorities in Shannon, Dublin, the Department of Transport and the American authorities. The Canadian Government reports that from 1 October 2007 to 30 September 2008 more than 4 million people travelled through preclearance facilities at Toronto. The figure for Vancouver is 3 million and for Montreal, 1.5 million.

The benefits of preclearance facilities will make Shannon and Dublin Airports much more attractive to passengers travelling to the US and passengers transiting from other European airports. I welcome the proposal from British Airways in respect of the London city to Shannon route, which will be of major assistance to Shannon. I wonder if the Minister has been briefed on that proposal and whether he has any further information on any similar proposals from other airlines in respect of other airports in Europe or of initiatives being undertaken by the Dublin Airport Authority to attract as many as possible transiting routes and passengers to use the preclearance facilities.

Has the Department of Transport undertaken an analysis of how many extra passengers and how much extra revenue the introduction of preclearance facilities will contribute to Dublin and Shannon? I accept that comparisons with the Caribbean and Canada would differ considerably given the geographical locations. Has any such work been done by the Department? Also, how much extra revenue does the Minister believe will be generated each year at Shannon and Dublin?

I understand a new US destination may also be opened up to Dublin and Shannon with the advent of preclearance. Currently, some US airports do not allow international flights to land because they have no customs or immigration facilities. Has the Minister held discussions with the DAA in regard to facilitating this type of development, in particular at Shannon Airport? I accept the wishes of some of my colleagues from County Clare that we would be prepared to provide additional funding to develop throughput at our first and great international airport at Shannon.

Article 9 of the agreement between the US and Irish Government deals with the cost of preclearance. I would like to know the cost of the establishment of preclearance facilities at Dublin and Shannon Airports. I note there is a €20 million cost in respect of an important new facility at Shannon Airport. In Dublin, a new terminal 2 is being built which is being financed by Dublin Airport. What will be the cost of preclearance facilities at both airports?

Much of the Bill deals with the technical aspects for implementation of the proposed new facilities. Sections 3 and 4 set out the rights and duties of travellers who enter the preclearance area. I welcome the Minister's amendment which allows for the possibility of an honest mistake being made by a traveller when filling out a declaration form, an amendment first proposed by my Labour Party colleagues in the Seanad. It would be relatively easy in such situations for persons to underestimate in the official declaration form the value of certain goods.

Sections 5 and 6 set out the functions of preclearance officers and of Irish law enforcement officers. We are creating new offences in the Bill. I note that Canada took a slightly different approach with regard to some of those offences. On that point, will Irish law enforcement officers, the Garda Síochána, always take pre-eminence in the preclearance area or will preclearance officers from the United States have an equal standing with our Irish law enforcement officials? I welcome also the Minister's amendment No. 3 which states that nothing in the Act shall be construed as permitting a preclearance officer to be in possession of a weapon in the performance of his or her functions under this Act. The Minister will note that I have tabled a similar amendment on behalf of the Labour Party.

Section 13 deals with diplomatic privileges and immunities to which preclearance officers will be subject. These appear to be the same as those applying to diplomatic staff. Perhaps the Minister will say if this is standard procedure wherever the Americans have preclearance in other jurisdictions? In that context, will the Irish Government and authorities have access to background information on preclearance officers who will be stationed at Shannon and Dublin? We have such information in respect of embassy staff.

I note it was stated in the Department's press release in regard to the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill that Shannon will be the only airport designated to facilitate preclearance for private US-bound aircraft. Will special or enhanced security measures be put in place to invigilate private aircraft using Shannon given the safety and security issues at stake? The Minister will be aware of the question marks over security at small airports around the country. An example is Weston Airport — I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will recall this — from which a flight to Belgium originated and in respect of which a large consignment of heroin was found. What measures will be put in place at Shannon to ensure that private aeroplanes are subject to the strictest standards of monitoring and invigilation?

The Labour Party has long campaigned against the illegal and despicable practice of rendition, which involves the transfer in military aircraft of people from one State to another, outside of all standard judicial and administrative processes, and has allegedly routinely involved the use of torture. I have travelled in the past to Shannon with my colleagues Deputies Michael D. Higgins, Joe Costello and Jan O'Sullivan to protest against the use of Shannon Airport for the purpose of rendition flights. I understand that the standard reply of the Government has been that it has sought assurances from the US Government that rendition flights have never been routed through Shannon. Given President Obama's decision to close Guantanamo Bay and the preclearance monitoring mechanisms being discussed today, the Minister and his colleagues should insist on a strong and transparent system of monitoring and inspecting all foreign aircraft that use our airport facilities. We should provide that the Garda Síochána can inspect every aeroplane, including all military aircraft, that lands at Shannon, Dublin or anywhere else.

I understand that although the US-Canadian preclearance agreement is fully reciprocal, the Canadians have chosen not to operate preclearance facilities at US airports. Our agreement is also reciprocal. Is there any advantage to our considering Ireland having preclearance facilities at American airports? I understand that the Canadian Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Transport are currently overseeing an independent review of the impact of the evolving economic, security, regulatory, legislative, airport and airline environment on the administration and operation of the Preclearance Act since 2 May 2003, which was designated to take place five years after the agreement came into place. This appears to be a useful practice. Would the Government be prepared to have a similar five-yearly review for the operation of the Irish-US agreement? It would improve the economic prospects of Shannon Airport in particular.

The Canadians have also indicated that even though they have experienced very few complaints from passengers using the system, they advise individuals with a complaint about the preclearance process to take advantage of the United States Department of Homeland Security's traveller redress inquiry programme — TRIP — which addresses complaints about watch list misidentification issues, situations where travellers believe they face screen problems at ports of entry and situations where travellers believe they have been unfairly or incorrectly delayed, denied boarding or identified for additional screening or secondary inspection at ports of entry. Will Irish passengers be informed about and directed through the TRIP system?

I pay tribute to the staff of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, who gave us an important briefing that included much of the material dealing with Canada. I note in their excellent briefing document that there are potential environmental and congestion impacts. Can the Minister provide information on the analysis of the environmental impact of the introduction of preclearance when aircraft are included in the CO2 regime in Europe?

The Dublin Airport Authority recently postponed plans for a second runway at Dublin. Will the possible increase in flights as a result of preclearance lead to an early review of that decision? For both Dublin and Shannon Airports there will be a need for ongoing reviews of congestion from preclearance.

Before the end of this session I want to mention the growing difficulties in the Irish aviation sector. Any new service that will enhance Irish aviation facilities and attract more passengers is clearly greatly welcome. Ryanair has announced in the past few weeks, however, that it will cut two planes from its fleet, with the loss of 36 flights a week from Shannon and 44 flights from Dublin. The reduction in service means that 100 Ryanair and reportedly 550 further aircraft jobs will be lost. Those appalling losses come on the back of the Aer Lingus announcement that it will cut its winter flight schedule between Shannon and New York and Chicago. Delta Airlines has also announced the end of scheduled transatlantic service from Shannon from October. Last month the Dublin Airport Authority also reported plans to cut 400 jobs in Dublin and Shannon Airports. Listening to my colleagues from Clare talking about regional imbalance, it is important to note that the 400 jobs lost in Dublin were highly skilled positions and those workers will not be able to find further employment in north and west Dublin. It is critical we fight for jobs no matter where they are because both airports are critical to Ireland's future.

The reduction in services and jobs follows a serious decline in passenger numbers. This month the CSO reported that in the first three months of 2009, there was a 13% decrease in the number of trips being taken abroad in comparison with the same period in 2008. Traffic through Dublin Airport is expected to drop from 23.5 million to 20 million this year while traffic in Shannon will decline drastically from 3.6 million at the end of 2008 to 3.2 million. These recent decisions will also have a negative impact on Shannon Airport. Ryanair has alleged in 2009 that 2.5 million airline passengers, 2,500 aviation jobs and €1.5 billion in tourism revenue will be lost.

These are all astonishing statistics that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste should be addressing. We are introducing this Bill at a time of escalating crisis in Irish aviation. Passengers have never faced such a range of extra charges from both the airlines and the airports. Last week, the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation, Mr. Cathal Guiomard, announced a 13% increase in passenger charges, from €7.39 in 2009 to €8.35 in 2010 for Dublin Airport. Charges are set to rise again next year with the opening of the second terminal.

A key criticism from airlines and operators across the spectrum of the travel industry is the negative impact of the €10 air travel tax, which the Minister for Finance introduced in the October budget. In Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain, similar travel taxes have been axed by the national governments because they want to encourage more people to travel by air in these challenging times.

I have asked the Taoiseach repeatedly about this issue. There was presumably a cost-benefit analysis of the travel tax. It is supposed to bring in €145 million in a full year. We have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the past year and a half. Clearly, the cost benefit for the travel tax is negative so it is ludicrous and it is time to revisit it. The Government's normal reaction is to attack the chief executive of Ryanair, with whom I have differences, but on this matter he is telling us about the situation in an accurate way. It is not worth losing 8,000 jobs in Shannon, Dublin and Cork Airports over this crazy tax. There will be a budget in October and we should get rid of it then.

It is not just the travel and tourism sector of the aviation industry that is troubled at the moment, there is also a serious crisis in the aviation maintenance and heavy engineering sector in Ireland. The Minister rightly said several times in his speech that aviation is a critical industry to us and one we are good at. The Government, however, has allowed the centre of aviation engineering education and excellence to fall apart in the past nine months. This is an appalling act of vandalism. I see the workers who have been laid off, senior staff in their 40s and 50s with few prospects of immediate re-employment. They were the best at what they did on this planet and for the sake of €16 million, the Minister was not prepared to maintain the facilities in Dublin, Shannon and in Rathcoole. The Minister was not prepared to make a stand on those jobs, an act of incredible folly.

I am sick and tired of asking the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport what is happening with the proposed buy-out of SR Technics. All we know is that a lot of hangars are empty where 1,200 people used to work at a high quality, in highly skilled jobs, enjoying a global reputation for expertise. It is incredible and one of many reasons there should be a general election. No other Government could have done as badly.

In the past few days we have given a zombie casino bank €3 billion that we will now have to sweat blood to pay for. That Minister would not give €16 million to preserve an aviation engineering facility. I urge the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to consider facilitating the purchase of the SRT capital equipment and make the SRT hangars available for a new commercial State enterprise, an enterprise with majority State shareholding, or one supported by IDA Ireland. We need more comprehensive attention on this matter.

On the issue before us, the Minister and his Department are rightly stressing the urgent need for this legislation because of the benefits it should bring to the troubled aviation sector. In recognising this fact, the Minister should agree to broader measures to enhance the aviation engineering and maintenance sector. I have made a number of proposals that I hope the Minister will consider when we reach Committee Stage. I broadly welcome the Bill and hope the Minister will provide further information and clarification on the issues I have raised.

I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this Bill and offer some views on it. I welcome the Bill, which has been some time coming, although when one reads its detail it is clear why the time taken was necessary. Because of the complexity of the Bill and the need to deal with the United States it was necessary and right that due time and consideration be taken. I am somewhat confused, however, by the comments of some Opposition Members, particularly one who wished the Bill a speedy passage through the Dáil after voting to delay its passage on the instruction of Deputy Kenny——

What is all this about?

——who did not want to see the Bill go through the House tonight.

What is he talking about?

However, that is neither here nor there as the Bill is now before the House.

We fully support this Bill.

Based on the contributions that have been made, it is clear the Opposition is supporting it, which I welcome. We are all working together in a collective fashion.

On a point of order, a Chathaoirligh——

It is a point of order. I wish to make it clear that we fully support this Bill throughout all Stages in the House, and so does Deputy Kenny.

We wanted more time.

We wanted more time but we are supporting the Bill.

There were many people who wanted to speak on it.

I am well aware of that, but the longer we spend discussing the Bill the longer it takes to pass through the House. I am making the point that we had an unnecessary vote, as I saw it, this evening.

On a point of order——

I hope it is a point of order.

This is ridiculous.

This preclearance legislation is welcome and is vital for Shannon and the mid-west region. Good legislation requires thorough consideration by all TDs in the Dáil. That is the point.

That is not a point of order.

One takes exception to the fact that Deputy Dooley is saying this. He might correct the point.

The Deputy has made his point.

I take exception to the Opposition's seeking a vote to effectively delay the passage of the Bill.

The Deputy might correct the point.

I ask Deputy Dooley to proceed.

I believe that is the case and the record of the House will show it.

He is talking rubbish as usual.

Notwithstanding that, I compliment the Minister on the efforts he has made and the engagement he has had with participants in the region to bring about this vital component of balanced regional development. This will augment the considerable efforts made by the Government to develop infrastructure in the mid-west and west. It is a central plank of this Government's policy. The parties currently in Government and Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats Party have always sought to improve the infrastructure and set in place the cornerstone of balanced regional development. It is bizarre that others seem to suggest the Government has not made the necessary investment, and I reject that. This is another integral part of its continued efforts in this area. It is then up to the various responsible agencies to develop upon that infrastructure the necessary services and job creation measures in the region and I have no doubt they will do so.

I recognise the tremendous efforts of Shannon Development and the airport authority for the work they have done in conjunction with the local authority and others to ensure the facilities required to provide this service will be in place. In advance of the drafting of the legislation and of the final agreement between the Government and the authorities in the United States, the management at Shannon Airport, under the guidance of Martin Moroney, ensured in conjunction with the local authority that planning permission was in place and that the project would be ready to commence within a month or so.

The passage of this legislation will bring about the most exciting development for a generation at Shannon Airport. Deputies Breen and Joe Carey mentioned some of the other developments that have taken place at Shannon, including the concept of duty free shopping, which has now been introduced throughout the world. It was interesting to see at the weekend that Dubai Duty Free was sponsoring the races at the Curragh and to think that this emanated from some of the really bright people involved in the development of Aer Rianta, including Brendan O'Regan and Liam Skelly, from my own area, who were pioneers in developing the entrepreneurial spirit that has stood the region extremely well. It is heartening that people such as Mr. O'Regan and Mr. Skelly are remembered in the context of the major exciting development we are discussing today.

There have been many other innovative ideas, particularly the early development of Shannon as a staging post for aircraft travelling from Russia to Cuba and the provision of various refuelling services. I was somewhat disappointed to hear this week that Amnesty International had sought to use the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture to highlight Shannon's notional participation in the abhorrent practice of extraordinary rendition, as mentioned by Deputy Broughan. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have seen no evidence to show any level of participation by the authorities at Shannon in that most abhorrent practice. I am largely complimentary of the work done by Amnesty International but it must target its efforts at the areas in which the greatest results can be achieved.

The Irish Government, in its direct and forthright discussions with President Obama and, previously, with President Bush, sought to highlight the practice of rendition as being entirely wrong and in contravention of international law. This debate should be taking place in Washington and not hanging around the airport in Shannon seeking to sully the name of Shannon Airport in a manner that is unnecessary, unfair and frankly wrong. Shannon is no different, as one of the local councillors said during the week, to a filling station that refuels the car of an armed robber. It is in that context we need to view the role of Shannon.

Amnesty International and others must focus their attention on lobbying the US Government. I welcome the decision that was taken by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the early stages of the Obama Administration to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay and I welcome the Irish Government's decision to participate in that exercise by agreeing to take a number of detainees. This strengthens that relationship between our two countries — a relationship which I have no doubt is part of the reason the US Government has entered into discussions with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, the Taoiseach and others to ensure we are able to provide this service.

There was some criticism by Deputy Broughan, who stated that the Irish Government should not have accepted the assurances of the Bush Administration with regard to the practice of rendition. However, the level of understanding and good will that exists between the two administrations is the basic foundation on which a complex agreement such as this could have been negotiated. The US is conscious, as it has been since the events of 11 September 2001, of homeland security, and for the US Government to offer a franchise of this nature to Ireland — the first and only facility with this service outside the Americas — is truly a recognition of that relationship. Deputy O'Dowd referred to the work done by his brother, Niall. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of Mr. Niall O'Dowd and many other Irish-Americans in working with various actors, facilitators and politicians in the United States to continue to develop the link between the two countries. We must continue in this vein rather than facilitate the isolationist efforts of some well-meaning people in Amnesty International and other organisations who seek to create an impression about Ireland, Shannon and the Government which is unfair, unwarranted and well wide of the mark.

Other speakers have commented on the visit by the United States Secretary for Homeland Security, Ms Janet Napolitano, to Shannon at the weekend. I understand she is pleased with the progress she has seen. I welcome the clarification from the Minister that there will be a capacity for aircraft flying onwards to the United States to land at domestic terminals and domestic airports. This is vital to our ability to attract new business. Initially allowing the commercial airlines to use domestic terminals at international airports will offer good value for money and allow them to compete in the current difficult environment. It will more than offset the concerns that have been expressed in regard to the travel tax. Moreover, it will assist in lowering the cost of travel to the United States. From this will grow significant opportunities to develop Shannon and other airports, including Dublin Airport. We should not come cap in hand. Shannon Airport can stand proud and need not seek an unfair advantage. It has all the advantages it needs, particularly in terms of its uncluttered air environment, its extremely long and uncluttered runway and its good terminal capacity in comparison with Dublin. What is required is a recognition and commitment that development will not happen on its own simply because the legislation is there or because it has been given the wherewithal to seek to expand. We must go out and market the airport. The airport director, Mr. Martin Moroney, and members of his marketing team have the will and capacity to work on that. They have already shown significant breakthroughs, such as the deal with British Airways to facilitate a high-end service from London City Airport which will initially see one and eventually two services per day transiting through Shannon on their onward journey to avail specifically of the preclearance service. That is most welcome.

Ryanair, under the direction of Mr. Michael O'Leary, has provided good business for Shannon in recent years. Other speakers have referred to a reduction in passenger numbers through the airport. However, they are making comparisons with one year ago, whereas I have been familiar with the airport for much longer. Passenger numbers have grown from 1.2 million to 1.4 million in the late 1990s and early 2000s, to 2 million in 2005 and 3.6 million last year. We are talking about reverting from 3.6 million passengers to 3.1 million. The increase in numbers in recent years came on the back of the significant business that Ryanair has brought to the airport. There has been talk at that airline of the possibility of launching a transatlantic service. Some years ago, Mr. O'Leary claimed he would not envisage such a development until such time as there was a recession and aeroplanes could once more be purchased cheaply. I do not expect the prices of aircraft to fall much further than they already have. Therefore, there may be an opportunity in this regard, with the preclearance service allowing Ryanair to go into the type of airport it has developed throughout Europe. That is where the greatest opportunity resides.

Another important issue is the Minister's decision to make Shannon Airport the only one in Ireland designated to deal with private aircraft. The latter will generate the greatest potential in the short term for a significant increase in activity at the airport. The landing charges associated with that and the work provided in refuelling and providing aeroplanes with the consumables they require as they pass through will increase business in the region generally. I have spoken to the chief executive officer of Shannon Development, Vincent Cunnane, and its chairman, John Brasil, about these opportunities. They are excited about the prospect of high net worth individuals passing through the airport on a regular basis and using the facilities. In particular, they see an opportunity to develop an international headquarters in the Shannon free zone which would provide access for passengers to European markets. Shannon Development and the tourism agencies are also anxious to encourage some of those who stop at Shannon Airport for preclearance to take a mini-vacation, availing of the fine golf courses and the beautiful landscape throughout County Clare.

There is little doubt that the aviation industry, like every other sector of the economy, is going through a challenging time. Some speakers expressed the view that it is unfortunate for this initiative to come at a time of economic downturn. I, on the other hand, consider it almost a gift from God because it is exactly what is required to smooth out the challenges we face. This type of innovation will help us to retain jobs that might otherwise have been lost at the airport and in the region. I am fiercely proud of the people who have negotiated this, including the workers, at the airport and in Aer Lingus and other airlines, who have taken pay cuts in order to protect jobs. This will help to ensure that Shannon Airport can continue as a pioneering airport on the western seaboard, providing vital access to the west and functioning as an essential component of balanced regional development.

I encourage the Minister to give serious consideration to the issue of capital investment in airports generally. I have been of the view for some time that the Government must concentrate more of its capital investment on Shannon Airport. We may in the past have tried to spread our capital more thinly and to facilitate all airports along the western seaboard. However, the reality is that there is an airport in almost every county, from Waterford to Donegal. Funding them in the way we have done in the past may not represent the best use of public moneys. For an island the size of Ireland, three well-funded airports with a proper capital infrastructure should be the objective. Hopefully we will see continued improvements in this regard.

There have been suggestions by the Opposition that this legislation represents just one part of the infrastructural development that is needed. In reality, it is one of the final pieces in an impressive range of achievements in the region. It is important to recognise the tremendous investment that has gone into the N18. I have spoken to the Minister about the next phase of construction which will see the extension of the Crusheen bypass connecting Ennis with Gort. The onward connection from Gort to Galway must be rolled out as quickly as possible. I look forward to an announcement by the Minister in this regard in the not too distant future. The Crusheen bypass and Ennis bypasses are completed and the Limerick tunnel is under construction and due for completion early next year. We have also seen tremendous work on the western rail corridor. The opening of the Sixmilebridge rail station will provide access to Shannon Airport from our rail network, as referred to by another speaker. There has been a substantial investment in the infrastructure of the mid-west and west, and we must continue to build on that. This legislation fulfils that objective. Another project that is advancing well is the Crusheen rail station. There is future potential for cargo. Shannon Airport's close access to the Port of Foynes puts forward a strong business case to develop that synergy between the airport and the deep water port. This will require further investment and improvements in the road between Foynes and the new Limerick bypass. With the tunnel, this would provide unhindered access to the airport, allowing large ships to dock and cargo to be broken down and freighted by air to further locations.

Debate adjourned.