Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Minister needs to listen to what the residents of Fingal are saying. If he works with the Opposition, we will respond positively. Labour will not oppose the Bill on Second Stage, but if the Minister does not seek to amend it in Committee we will table our own amendments. We will table amendments anyway. However, we will oppose the Bill later if it is not amended.

The Opposition has the numbers to change this if we work together, as hopefully we will. It seems that all Opposition Members who have spoken so far agree that Fingal County Council should not be the competent authority. I hope all parties that have indicated they do not find Fingal County Council acceptable to be the competent authority will stick to their guns and see this through. I hope that the recently extended confidence and supply arrangement does not get in the way of all the Opposition getting together on this. Fianna Fáil will be key as it has the numbers. I presume it will come under pressure to abstain or do something other than to vote with the Opposition. I hope not; we will see what happens. Fianna Fáil Members have decisions to make.

While the Bill is very technical, it will have a real impact on people living in the environs of the Dublin Airport. There is a solution here and the Minister should take it and deliver it. It will strengthen the Bill. I argued at length last night that the independence is not there with what he intends to do with Fingal County Council. This will go some way towards delivering what the communities in the vicinity of the airport deserve.

I start by reading an email from a resident who had hoped to be here last night. He wrote:

Myself and my partner live 200 metres from the main (south) runway at Dublin airport. We are actually inside the perimeter of DAA lands with only one road in and out. God forbid there would ever be an accident or a plane crash. We are now at a stage where life in our home is just unbearable. A night's sleep is a thing of the past, with the pictures dancing on the wall, the headboard on the bed vibrating with the whole house. DAA don't seem to have any concern for us in any way and they are taking on more contracts every day, and with the airport being so busy these flights are now happening in the middle of the night - Maastricht, Moldova and so on.

This discussion is not about runways or jobs but about noise. It is specifically about the impact of noise on residents in airport communities. This is not a figment of people's imaginations but is a real and recognised threat to human health and well-being. In his speech yesterday, the Minister referred to the existing conditions on the second parallel runway at Dublin Airport and said that the DAA would be applying to change these conditions, almost implying that they were a relic of some distant past. In reality, however, the conditions put in place when planning permission was granted for the second parallel runway were imposed at a time when our knowledge of the impact of noise was not as extensive as it is now. If anything, the restrictions that are in place now do not go far enough. The regulation before us places an obligation on the DAA to mitigate against noise impacts. Consideration of noise is not an optional extra but an obligation. The hierarchy, as set out in the balanced approach, means that the consideration of noise impacts on adjoining communities must be addressed legally. This is an incredibly big deal and that should be our starting point.

In 2007 when An Bord Pleanála's inspector refused permission for a second parallel runway on noise grounds he said that the full nature and extent of the increase in night noise had not been satisfactorily identified and qualified. He said that the proposed mitigation measures in terms of the insulation of schools were inadequate, having regard to the correlation between noise and children's cognitive development. He also said that the increase in aircraft noise, both day and night, coupled with the increased risk in terms of public health and safety, would seriously injure the amenities of properties and community facilities in the area. Of course, we know that his opinion was overruled and An Bord Pleanála granted permission, albeit on the basis of two very strict conditions. However, two years later in 2009, the World Health Organization, WHO, introduced and amended its night noise guidelines. In the context of evidence for night noise exposure, the WHO indicated that 40 decibels should be the target to protect vulnerable groups, particularly children, the chronically ill and the elderly, with 55 decibels being the interim target. Noise levels between 40 and 55 decibels at night, according to the WHO, lead to adverse health effects among the exposed population, with many people having to adapt their lives to cope with the noise. It points out that vulnerable groups are more severely affected. This is the reality with which we are dealing. This legislation designates a competent authority which is designed to adjudicate upon such matters. The fact that the existing insulation programme on offer from the DAA to adjoining residents is only available from 63 decibels and the relocation programme is only applicable at 69 decibels shows how out of touch and behind the curve we are in terms of the serious impact of noise on human health and well-being.

My starting point is that this legislation is incredibly important. It is about formalising a competent authority with the power to order measures to deal with noise. That is good and welcome. The DAA, in the lobbying letter that it sent to all of us, was at pains to stress that it is essential that this legislation is not incorrectly viewed as a proxy for debating the new runway, a wide range of potential noise mitigation measures and the stakeholder views arising. It said that the legislation is about a totally new and independent competent authority. The DAA is right but it is a pity that its letter then goes on to contradict that lofty claim. It suggests that the time window for making such decisions is closing with every passing week and states there is a likelihood that airlines will be left with no option but to relocate to other countries and so on. It also devotes a big section of the letter to the new runway, precisely undermining its opening statement that this legislation is not about the new runway. The DAA is at pains to say that "pending regulatory clarity", Dublin Airport will have about 40% less running capacity at key periods and so on and that in practice, this means that no growth will be possible at key times of the day. Let us be clear here. What the DAA is really saying is that pending the completion of the second runway, capacity will be restricted. It is linking this to the runway. In my opinion, this is an attempt at blackmail by the back door. The idea that billions of euro will be spent on a runway that will have less capacity is utter nonsense. When we look closely at the phraseology, we see that it is very cleverly worded. The letter refers to a reduction in capacity "at key times". It does not refer to the fact that overall capacity will be massively increased.

We must get real here. Balanced development is necessary to protect human health. It is a fact that 99 flights currently operate at night or in the exclusionary zones. Under the conditions that exist once the second runway is commissioned, that will fall by about 33%. However, it is not unusual to have night-time restrictions and that is not something to be threatened. The problem with this legislation is that the Minister and Department have framed the discussion on it in the context of lifting and amending the two existing restrictions on night-time flying. We saw that in the briefings we received from departmental officials. All of the talk started with the planning application process whereas in actual fact, the establishment of the competent authority and the way the Bill is structured are much more important factors in balancing issues related to complaints about the impact of noise.

It is ironic that in a previous discussion the Minister said that Dublin Airport's strategic importance does not mean that the DAA can "ride roughshod" over the sensibilities or the lives of people who live in the area. Regulation is supposed to be designed to ensure that is the case. However, the way the Minister has handled this process is appalling. The attempts a number of weeks ago to ram this through and put it on the Order Paper when the Bill had not even been published and the efforts made to schedule the Committee Stage debate for next week, the week before Christmas, when the Second Stage process had not even been concluded are an absolute affront to democracy. The handling of this by the Minister is an utter shambles.

In March 2016, we were told that the Attorney General and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment were in consultation on the implementation of regulation for June 2016. In September of that year, the Minister told us that the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, had been selected as the competent authority and that he hoped to finalise the necessary statutory instrument within a few weeks. Six months later, in February 2017, the Minister told us that the delay was because of legal issues that are being "looked at". He said that he was sorry and that he had hoped to have it done by 2016 and that it was five or six weeks late at that stage. He said that the delay was indicative of the fact that the Office of Attorney General was determined to ensure that the rights of residents would be protected. He went on to say that there would be a requirement to introduce a statutory instrument and that he saw the IAA as the "best fit" to deal with noise management at Dublin Airport, in line with what was happening in Europe and in international civil aviation. He also said that his officials were currently engaged with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to finalise details of the statutory instrument. Four months after that, in June 2017, the Minister told us that the Attorney General was still actively engaged with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and that he had just looked at the seventh, and hopefully the last, draft which would be finalised by the end of that week. The Minister said that this was a top priority for the new Attorney General.

That gives a whole new meaning to the word "priority". It is utterly shocking that at the time the Minister indicated there was broad agreement that the IAA was best-positioned to take on the role and do it to the highest standard of professional competence. It has a strong and recognisably verified track record in the areas of aviation safety and inspection - functions for which it already has legal responsibility. The Minister stated that making it responsible for noise regulation makes sense, and most of us agreed with him.

Despite more than a year of engagement with top legal minds and multiple drafts of legislation, four months later the advice was stood on its head and rejected. The IAA was not suitable because it was not independent after all. Will the Minister explain how that happened? It does not add up. It was an insult that, four months later, Fingal County Council was appointed. Having stated the IAA could not be used because it did not have the necessary staffing, reporting, accountability and funding arrangements required to meet the new benchmark of independence, which meant it was not a viable option, the Government then gave the responsibility to Fingal County Council, which certainly was not suitable. The situation is utterly bizarre and unique because no other jurisdiction in the European Union has selected an organisation like Fingal County Council. Eight of the member states are exempt from this provision because their airports are too small, while another eight have designated their civil aviation authority, that is, the equivalent of the IAA, which is the most popular choice. Five member states have designated a government department, two have designated multiple bodies, while two have not yet done anything. The Minister stated that three have designated a local authority or federal authority, and put us in the same group as Germany and the UK, but that is not a fair comparison. In Germany and the UK, the ministry for transport is involved and, therefore, it is not a fair or equal comparison.

We are back to the beginning. The IAA was the most popular choice with citizens, it is the vehicle used by most countries, and whatever objection the Minister previously had to using it on the grounds of independence, there is no valid objection on the basis of his decision to separate the functions of the IAA, namely, its commercial air navigation tasks and its independent regulation of air navigation services. I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister about progress in this regard yesterday, and he replied, "It provides a sounder governance and organisational basis for enhancing regulatory functions into the future, which is needed to match the ever growing regulatory demands – particularly in [the] aviation [industry] and security - emanating from the EU and ICAO." Those organisations are the very source of the legislation.

There has been engagement with top-level technical bodies, and the process is already well under way. While it will take some time to give the functions of the IAA to the Commission for Aviation Regulation, CAR, it is already well under way. It is recognised that the official expertise to deal with the noise regulation issue does not exist and, therefore, there is no reason the CAR cannot be upskilled or contract in the expertise in the way that the Minister's officials told us Fingal would have to do. It makes eminent sense to give the function in the newly split IAA environment to the CAR. As Deputy Brendan Ryan indicated, no Opposition Deputies will tolerate Fingal County Council being appointed and the Bill will not progress unless the Minister addresses the issue. It is a requirement to have an independent authority, but Fingal does not even appear independent. The DAA stated that it does not really care what body gets it as long as some body does, and Fingal does not want it. No other country has done what the Government is proposing.

The issue rests with the Minister, who has some serious thinking to do over Christmas. When I raised the matter with him previously, he indicated that there was no plan B. He had better put on his thinking cap and make a plan B because the community will not put up with anything else. We will table amendments to designate the CAR as the competent authority in the Bill. The Minister must start listening, because the Bill has been structured to facilitate the DAA's efforts to lift the night-time restrictions. The way it is phrased leaves the path to invoke the action of the competent authority unclear.

In case there is any attempt to spin what is being said on the Opposition benches, it is important to note that none of us is anti-airport. I made my livelihood in the airport, and my constituents, friends and colleagues live near it and love it. The industry is important, but it cannot carry on unfettered. The impact of climate change, for example, is severe, and airlines and aviation must take it into account.

Night-time restrictions have been factored in at almost every other airport because of the impact on human health and society. The best comparison to Dublin Airport is probably Manchester Airport, which restricts night flights to 7% of the total number of flights at the airport. In Dublin, on the other hand, the restriction is 14%. Manchester brought in many measures to control the use of noisy aircraft at night such as quotas or a provision to the effect that night flights must use a lower-noise aircraft. It introduced multiple measures between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. which I do not have time to outline but they are much meatier than what is proposed in the Bill. That is the direction in which we must go.

The idea that the airlines will uproot and move to other jurisdictions and that thousands of jobs will be lost is ridiculous. As Deputy Brendan Ryan stated at the previous session, it will have an impact on their profits, but it is a legal requirement that the implication of noise must be considered. When the runway was originally given planning permission, strict night-time restrictions on noise were put in place and, as a result, the requirement for insulation was more lax. If there is to be any lifting of the operational restrictions at night, it can be done only in the context of a much broader scheme of insulation to affect those who will be affected by it. That would be a balanced approach. The idea that residents would give over that function to Fingal County Council, which made the original decision to grant planning permission, is utterly ridiculous. No other country in Europe has done anything like it, and Fingal does not even want the function. The chief executive officer of the council would be engaged in planning in one room, while sorting out the staffing of the noise regulator in another. This does not look good for the Government, and I am sure it will be the subject of judicial challenge.

We will table many amendments on Committee Stage, which we look forward to, but the Bill will go nowhere unless the Minister wakes up, starts to undo the ridiculous shambolic way in which the Bill has progressed and listens to this side of the House. Otherwise, we will return to a situation where the reason for the delays will rest nowhere but on his door.

I understood Deputy Broughan intended to share time but as he does not intend to do so, the next in line is Deputy Farrell. We will give Deputy Broughan the full 20 minutes afterwards.

I apologise to Deputy Broughan. I had assumed he was next.

We are all Fingal Deputies here.

That is fair enough.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I am as disappointed as my colleagues in Fingal and my constituency that it is taking so long to bring it to the House for debate, but I welcome the opportunity to address some aspects of the Bill.

The regulation of noise at Dublin Airport is of utmost importance because there are plans for the second northern runway, which will have a great impact on a number of communities across the north county. While factors such as innovation in aircraft development have made planes quieter, the fact remains that airport movements can create significant and disturbances in certain communities that can be compounded by wind direction and other such factors. All Members will agree that noise pollution can create disturbances for families and communities and can have major health implications. As such, we must work to ensure noise regulation at Dublin Airport is a priority.

In terms of the proposals put forward in this Bill, a number of concerns that exist. I have been contacted by a number of residents in my constituency, particularly from the communities of Portmarnock and St. Margaret's, and I will endeavour to address a number of their concerns throughout this contribution.

This Bill sets out that the competent authority to advise on noise-related issues as they relate to the airport and planning applications will be Fingal County Council. I seek clarification from the Minister on what action he will take to ensure the independence of this function within Fingal County Council from the planning authority aspect the council currently holds.

I will not dwell too long, a Cheann Comhairle, on the comments of the previous speaker or those of Deputy Ryan and others yesterday but they certainly ring true. There is a perception in the public domain that Fingal County Council is not the appropriate authority to be appointed to fulfil this role. While I understand this decision was based on legal advice and further understand the debate that took place at pre-legislative scrutiny, at that time I was satisfied that all had been done as to the legal position. Since then, in the past few months, it is becoming increasingly obvious to me at least that there were other options. If we were going to put the level of investment in to a local authority such as Fingal County Council and start from zero, then why not start with an entirely new agency? That is the position I hold.

Fingal County Council is the body which collects rates from the airport and currently makes planning decisions that relate to it. It is therefore understandable that many local residents are concerned about the implications of Fingal County Council holding the function of competent authority and making decisions regarding noise levels at the Dublin Airport.

I do not accept that elected representatives will have no role in the decision-making functions of the competent authority but I would appreciate further information on the buffers that will be put in place between the part of Fingal County Council that acts as the planning authority and the section that acts as the competent authority.

There must be certainty regarding the separation of personnel between the competent authority and planning authority functions of Fingal County Council. We cannot face a situation whereby we find out in a few months' time that personnel currently in the planning section now act as personnel within its competent authority function. We also cannot face a situation in which the planning authority reviews an application in one room while the competent authority is reviewing it in the room next door. There must be a real and meaningful separation of personnel between the planning authority and the competent authority within Fingal County Council. Anything else would be unacceptable.

I note, however, that were any action taken to amend or overturn the conditions associated with the current permission granted for the second runway at Dublin Airport, a full planning application process would then ensue, whereby following the decision of Fingal County Council in this regard in its functions as the competent authority, and separately, as the planning authority, the appeal body will remain An Bord Pleanála. When the last decisions were made regarding the second runway, An Bord Pleanála was the appeals body. It is vital that this remains the case and that Fingal County Council is not the appeals body. This is important to ensure Fingal County Council is not judge, jury and executioner in this regard.

It is important to note the planning process is not radically changing in this overall process. It still will be the local planning authority and An Bord Pleanála still will operate as the appeals mechanism. Unlike the suggestion made in some of the remarks of the previous speaker, not that significant a change is happening.

To expand on this in respect of the development of the second runway at Dublin Airport, restrictions were put in place by An Bord Pleanála regarding the allowed number of night flights once the runway was completed. Should the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, make a new planning application to overturn this, it is reassuring to local residents that regardless of whatever decision may be reached by Fingal County Council, An Bord Pleanála would again be the appeals body. As such, I expect that the concerns of local residents, should this instance occur, would be appropriately acknowledged by An Bord Pleanála.

I am sure the Minister will understand that many residents hold genuine concerns regarding Fingal County Council's proposed function as the competent authority, and as such, should take whatever action may be necessary to provide that it is not appointed to the new roles associated with the competent authority functions of Fingal County Council as otherwise, this Bill, and the authority bestowed upon Fingal County Council by it will be undoubtedly undermined.

As such, I wish to raise the financial cost of establishing Fingal County Council as the competent authority.

In a recent parliamentary question to which the Minister responded, his written reply stated:

It is estimated that the set-up cost of establishing the Competent Authority under EU Regulation 598/2014 will be in the region of €350,000. It is further estimated that when the Competent Authority is making a regulatory determination - which will typically be in five year cycles - the cost of this peak activity will be in the region of €1 million. In years where activity is related to monitoring and reporting only - in other words, the years between each regulatory determination - the running costs will of course be less than this.

It is intended that these costs will be met by a levy that the Competent Authority can impose on the daa. The daa will be liable to pay this levy on a monthly, biannual or annual basis...

I note this Bill allows for the council to impose a levy on the DAA to cover its costs, either to reimburse the Council, or in advance to fund its operations in this regard. The fact remains that the start-up costs must not be a burden on local residents through the diversion of their local property tax, for example, or for local small businesses through the use of their funds to pay their taxes through their rates.

The Minister should give assurances to the House that, albeit being a small amount in the broad scheme of things, the €350,000 set-up costs are not a burden on the ratepayers of Fingal County Council and indeed its citizens, which includes the Deputies present. It is not appropriate for the State to set up a competent authority which governs airport movements in its international airpost to be borne by 5% of the population, which should also be borne in mind.

The simple fact is that noise mitigation must always be the priority for communities in and around the airport and therefore, that must be a priority for the Government. In this regard, I wish to address the noise monitoring functions that Fingal County Council will have as the competent authority. It is vital that noise monitoring happens on an ongoing basis at Dublin Airport. It is clear that noise at the airport is not only generated by flights themselves but also by numerous other functions at the airport. The fact that all these operations must be monitored continuously and that any appropriate action must be taken to reduce noise levels, is in the best interests of local residents.

I note the legislation before Members requires the production of an annual compliance report by the competent authority. While this in itself is positive, it will be fundamentally necessary for the required action to be taken by the competent authority to ensure that all operations at the airport are within the noise limits on each of the 365 days within a year. It will be vital that where noise levels exceed the maximum levels, swift action is taken to bring airport activities into compliance. In order to ensure compliance, the competent authority will have the ability to seek recourse through the High Court where its directions regarding operating measures or noise mitigation measures are not adhered to. That is vitally important.

Much of the focus here is on the airport directly and the activities that occur within the airport. It is important, however, that we take into consideration the people in their own homes in the context of this debate. We must ask ourselves the question as to how we can best provide for local residents to ensure they are protected from increased levels of noise at home, should a situation of non-compliance or any other such factor arise. As Deputy Clare Daly mentioned, I believe it was also mentioned yesterday evening, there have been developments as regards what is determined as acceptable noise limits in the vicinity of an airport released by the WHO. While I do not suggest that we should implement that line for line, we need to take it into consideration.

It is important that the competent authority has the competence to impose the requirement for the provision of an insulation scheme for homeowners and public buildings in line with adopting a balanced approach. When the plans for the second runway were brought forward, it was vital that plans were put in place to provide homes and buildings such as schools with additional insulation to offset any increase in noise resulting from increased operations. It is inevitable that traffic levels at Dublin Airport will grow as the airport grows. This will increase the number of communities potentially impacted by noise levels emanating from airport operations. It is important that these communities are protected and any remedial works required on homes and public buildings to protect them from noise are completed in advance of an increase in operations at the airport. For this reason, the competent authority should have the power to implement such requirements. I would appreciate the Minister's views on the matter.

While elements of this Bill are positive, grave concerns exist. Local residents deserve the reassurance they seek and to have their worries adequately addressed. Certainty must be provided regarding the future implications this Bill may have for local communities in Fingal. I am interested in hearing from the Minister the reason he believes this proposal would constitute a good deal for my constituents, and how he intends to address their genuinely held concerns.

I will deal with two final matters. The development of Dublin Airport over decades has taken place in a relatively well planned manner. There are, however, interventions at local authority level that have impacted greatly upon the lives of people living at either end of the runways. One-off houses have been developed, in particular in the St. Margaret's area, which is predominantly rural. These properties were granted planning permission because they were zoned by councillors. I was a councillor on Fingal County Council for nearly seven years and I recall a number of zonings for one-off houses occurring in the vicinity of Dublin Airport. In certain instances, we are now dealing with the repercussions of those decisions. The development plan for 2004 to 2011 was approved prior to the granting of planning permission for the northern runway and that must be taken into consideration. We must have a meaningful conversation on the competent authority, regardless of which body is appointed to that role, if the Opposition threats are followed through. It should have an overview role of the planning and development legislation regarding future one-off housing in the vicinity of Dublin Airport. That should be considered in the context of the Bill.

My colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, referred to Manchester Airport and the restrictions that are in place at night and the other mitigating factors the authority introduced there. That deserves further examination. I focused my research on London when perhaps I should have focused on Manchester. A restriction of 5,800 night flights per annum applies at Heathrow Airport. This amounts to approximately 15 flights per night in certain circumstances.

I find it peculiar that when the Bill was published recently, the DAA chief executive, Dalton Philips, made clear in a press release that the legislation would have a serious detrimental effect on Dublin Airport. Deputy Clare Daly spoke more eloquently about Dublin Airport's business model than I can. That model contains an inherent flaw. The DAA's suggestion that there will be a dramatic reduction in the number of aircraft movements at Dublin Airport is not true. The airport will have two runways operating simultaneously. There is sufficient distance between them to allow aircraft to land and take off at the same time, as is the case in other airports and jurisdictions. During the summer, while on board an aircraft that was taking off at another airport, I observed another aircraft taking off at the same time on an adjacent runway. It stands to reason, therefore, that if Dublin Airport can accommodate 30 million passengers with one runway, it will be able to realistically hit its target of accommodating 50 million passengers with two runways within a reasonable period.

Longitudinally, our landing slots are slightly different from those in mainland Europe and the United Kingdom because we are closer to the Americas and many aircraft arrive here at 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. I accept that such aircraft disturb residents, because they used to disturb me when I lived about 4 km from the airport, especially when they were slowing down upon landing. In his part of the city, the Minister would not be familiar with the rumbling sound but it can disturb people's sleep. While my house was too far away to hear the sound of engines on take-off and landing, that rumbling noise is present in the north county and one can hear it at busy times in particular. I do not wish to pick on one airline, but Aer Lingus is advertising for 200 new pilots. It is expanding its international long-haul fleet from 14 to 30 by 2021. That means a significant expansion in aircraft numbers, some of which will be narrow bodied aeroplanes with smaller engines.

I do not accept the position adopted by the Dublin Airport Authority that this legislation would have a serious detrimental effect on activities at Dublin Airport. It will have a significant effect on the DAA's current business model so that model will need to change. The important factors here are the need to take a balanced approach and to take account of aircraft noise regulation and improvements in technology. I am sure the decision made in 2007 was based on technological assessments of engines made in 2005 or thereabouts. That is a long time in terms of engine development.

When all of that is taken into consideration, I believe the measures outlined in the Bill are good. This legislation gives citizens the opportunity to deal with an organisation that is solely tasked with dealing with aircraft noise at their local airport where that airport accommodates more than 50,000 aircraft movements per annum. As the only airport in the country to which this regulation applies, it is good that the Bill is before us, although there are certain concerns with regard to the separation of the Fingal County Council's competent authority role from its other functions.

If we had debated this Bill in 2006, I do not think anybody would have voiced major concerns, certainly not in the way they are being voiced today. We are now dealing with the ongoing and ever-present threat from the DAA that it will appeal the two conditions it finds offensive in respect of night flights once the competent authority has been assigned. That creates a predicament for all of us in that we have to deal with the appointment of a competent authority, which is a good thing, against the backdrop of the presumption on the part of many, which is informed by Opposition politicians, that it is a fait accompli that the competent authority will overturn the decision of An Bord Pleanála. Given all of the technological advancements I mentioned and the traffic patterns Dublin Airport has built up since the decision was made in 2007, I do not see any evidence that the competent authority will overturn those decisions because significant changes have not been made to the operation of Dublin Airport. With the exception of African flights and flights landing from the continental United States, which can be modified to ensure they land after 6 a.m., I do not accept that it is a fait accompli that the competent authority will overturn the decision made.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill, which I intend to support. I have been made aware of certain amendments that will require careful consideration by the Minister. In particular, I draw his attention to the points I raised about insulation, a mandated programme that would be operated by the competent authority and the separation of staff to ensure there is sufficient distance between the competent authority's activities and those of the planning authority.

I call Deputy Broughan who is sharing time with Deputy Wallace.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I have always deeply appreciated the role of Dublin Airport as the key economic driver of Dublin’s northside, in particular as I was a founder and director of Coolock Development Council, which has community centres, business centres and jobs training programmes to help people leave unemployment. We know that up to 60,000 jobs in the wider airport zone, including Dublin Bay North, in particular jobs in logistics, are dependent on the successful development of the airport. However, as the number of passengers has moved up to 30 million per annum and beyond, and the second runway is under construction, constituents in Dublin Bay North, in particular those on the north fringe, remain profoundly anxious that the airport’s role is developed in a sustainable way. This especially concerns aircraft noise and associated flight paths, which, of course, are the core subject of the Bill.

We have been told the purpose of this Bill is to provide for the implementation of EU regulation 598/2014 regarding noise-related operating restrictions at airports in the EU with a balanced approach and to designate Fingal County Council as the competent authority. Did the Minister read that regulation before he drafted this Bill? It does not seem he did. Section 13 of the regulation states: “The competent authority responsible for adopting noise-related operating restrictions should be independent of any organisation involved in the airport’s operation, air transport or air navigation service provisions, or representing the interests thereof and of the residents living in the vicinity of the airport.” The Minister has clearly failed that test of independence in this Bill. Fingal County Council, the Minister's intended competent authority, cannot be independent of the Dublin Airport Authority nor the residents of Fingal, given it is there to serve those residents and approximately 40% of its annual budget comes from the Dublin Airport Authority. There is a clear conflict of interest. Fingal County Council, the airport and the local community are closely intertwined, which is why I believe an organisation such as the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, would be a much better fit as the competent authority. The House will know there is a motion on airport noise on the clár of the Dáil in my name and that of Deputy Clare Daly, in which we call on the EPA to carry out a study in this regard.

I have listened closely to colleagues such as Deputies Brendan Ryan and Clare Daly in regard to the position of the Commission for Aviation Regulation. I would have a concern in this regard, given people in the aviation business are in the aviation business, and there could still be some kind of conflict. However, the central point is that Fingal County Council does not fit the format of an independent regulator, no matter what its excellence might be in other areas of its operations on behalf of people in Fingal. The references to Fingal County Council in section 3 and in other sections of the Bill should be deleted and replaced with references to an independent regulator.

Seven or eight years ago, in the last Fianna Fáil-led Government with the Green Party, there was a proposal for a comprehensive noise control and abatement Bill, which proposed an independent noise regulator across the whole gamut of noise. I was very supportive of it but, unfortunately, the former Deputy, Ciarán Cuffe, as was the case with many other Green Party policies, did not bring it forward when he had the chance in four years in government.

When the Minister, Deputy Ross, was in the Seanad and when he wrote, week in, week out, in the Sunday Independent, he was always a clear and ferocious advocate for independent regulators. He did not regard the Central Bank or the Financial Regulator as proper regulators and he looked at other areas where he felt there was not proper regulation. This was one of the Minister's core beliefs. While I note An Bord Pleanála is responsible for the appeals mechanism under section 10 of the Bill, we need an independent regulator. This is not independent. The Minister has to go back to the drawing board. That is what is wanted in Dublin Bay North and across the whole 20 sq. km zone of the flight paths. It is what the Minister should seriously consider, and not leave it up to us to bring it forward.

The Minister told us Fingal County Council is to receive no extra Government funding to carry out this function. In fact, section 5 proposes a levy for the airport. Is this not an even worse conflict of interest? The Minister is expecting the DAA to further fund its own county council by paying a sufficient amount to have itself monitored. It is crazy and it does not add up.

We have seen over the years how the DAA has treated the surrounding neighbourhood of St. Margaret's, the Ward, Kilreesk and other small communities that long predate the development of Dublin Airport. When I was transport spokesperson for the Labour Party a decade ago, I remember meeting Michael O'Leary and representatives of Ryanair. There was a lot of talk that Ryanair would move to Mullingar or to a new airport in the midlands. Of course, Michael O'Leary correctly said that the Collinstown plateau in my constituency is one of the most ideal places in the world for an airport, given it is so close to the ocean and gets so little fog, which means it is operational almost every day. It is a brilliant location and it has served us well, even though the Government has not progressed the metro or other public transport links. Despite the location, the treatment of the residents and the impact on their health and well-being, on house values and on businesses has not been satisfactory.

I have represented constituents on the flight path, as has Deputy Brendan Ryan, in particular those living in the area from Portmarnock to Balgriffin and on the north fringe of the city. We see the nightly process of mostly Aer Lingus and Ryanair aeroplanes gently dropping in as they arrive home. Much of the time the noise is not too bad over much of the constituency but, when the wind is from the east and they are taking off towards the east, residents are exposed to what are often quite serious noise events. When I was on Dublin City Council over the years, we urged Fingal County Council to have more monitoring stations but this did not take place.

Fingal County Council’s consultation on the noise action plan for Dublin Airport 2019-2023 makes for interesting reading, although I am not sure the Minister has read it. The sheer number and scope of submissions shows how exercised our constituents are in Dublin Fingal and Dublin Bay North about noise pollution from the airport, and how seriously the Minister should be taking this matter to ensure sustainable development of the airport.

On that point, the Minister has been invited out to St. Margaret’s and Newtown on a number of occasions, and Deputy Brendan Ryan may also have invited him to his area, but the Minister has not got back to the residents or visited them. This is something he could do in the coming weeks. If this facility was located close to his own constituency, I am sure he would have visited them many times.

The consultation submissions and Fingal County Council actions mention the World Health Organization Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region, published in October 2018, and Fingal County Council outlined its action as being to “seek national guidance on the WHO Guidelines” and stated that it will “change text of NAP to include reference to newly published Who Guidelines”. Point 8 of the Fingal County Council submission refers to the “increase in night time noise exposure, referring to the 380% increase in dwellings exposed to night time noise above 50dB [decibels]”, which is an amazing finding. The council also confirmed there was an increase of 40% at night time for the “noise footprint” from 17 sq. km to 24.1 sq. km. Fingal County Council’s response states that “this had a disproportionate effect", although it then refers the matter back to the DAA without any fundamental actions. The Minister's legislation does not comply with the EU regulation in terms of the appointment of Fingal County Council and it will clearly be open to challenge at EU level. This is something which could go on for years.

Deputy Clare Daly and I have drafted a motion on all of these issues which the Minister might consider. We know from recent reports that the traffic for all of our airports is heading for 35 million passengers per annum, with close to 30 million for Dublin Airport alone.

Other Deputies referred to the plans to increase the number of passengers using the airport to 50 million in order to rival and surpass Manchester and become, alongside Heathrow, the other major airport in these islands. If that is to be countenanced at all, it must be done in a sustainable way, having particular regard to noise.

My fundamental point is that local residents in Dublin Fingal and Dublin Bay North believe strongly that the economic importance of Dublin Airport and the necessity for growth can coexist with the local community where proper insulation and sound barrier technology is installed, reasonable noise controls are in place and there is a voluntary buy-out scheme for those who decide they need to leave on foot of the latest developments. We must address the regulation issue, which is the Minister's task. I ask him to recall the time previously when he railed against incompetent regulators and situations in which the wrong regulator was in the wrong place, particularly in the area of finance, and I urge him not to designate Fingal County Council. He should instead go with the suggestion of my colleague or the EPA.

The Bill seeks to provide that An Bord Pleanála will be the appeal body in respect of aircraft noise regulation. Under the legislation, an appeal against a relevant regulatory decision may be lodged together with the appropriate fee before the board at any time before the expiration of the appropriate period by the airport authority or a relevant person. This appears to be a well-thought-out decision because the board has extensive experience in handing appeals. However, I am concerned about recent appointments to the board and how they might affect its ability to function in an impartial manner.

The Deputy should not name anyone.

I will go to great lengths not to name him.

I thank the Deputy.

According to a press statement released by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, yesterday, he has appointed an individual who the Ceann Comhairle does not want me to name and who has extensive experience in planning to the board of An Bord Pleanála. The press release stated that the individual was employed by a private company. That is inaccurate because the individual is head of planning for a public listed company, Glenveagh Properties plc, not a private company. The company is headed by another NAMA individual the Ceann Comhairle does not want me to name. The individual who has been nominated to An Bord Pleanála is a former employee of NAMA. He was head of planning with the agency. I am concerned that his appointment to the board will create a conflict of interest. What happens if Glenveagh applies directly to An Bord Pleanála for a strategic housing development of more than 100 units? Would this member be given a say in the decision-making or would he be absent for it? What would happen if-----

I am reluctant to intervene but we are treading on dangerous ground. Everyone is entitled to the presumption of his or her good name. That includes the presumption that anyone appointed to public office will act in an appropriate manner. While I thank the Deputy for not naming anyone, people would be readily able to identify the person to whom the Deputy has referred. I ask him to be careful, please.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I have expressed my concern. This is an area in respect of which the Government should be more careful. I am not casting aspersions on the individual involved. I am stating that when we make appointments, we must take on board the need to avoid conflicts of interest. When the Taoiseach announced the Land Development Agency, I expressed serious concerns of a similar nature. This is not disconnected from the same philosophy that brought us the Land Development Agency and I am disappointed, given such a terrible housing crisis, that the Government is getting the foxes to mind the chickens. It is of great concern. I have real concerns about the way in which the Government is dealing with the housing crisis. While I realise it is nothing to do with the Minister-----

We are on the Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill.

I accept that. I am throwing no stones at the Minister. I have taken the opportunity to highlight my worry and disappointment at how the Government is going about its business in dealing with the housing crisis. It happened to be connected to this because of the involvement of An Bord Pleanála. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Minister for their forbearance.

The connection is very tenuous, I suspect.

I welcome the debate. It is important that it should take place in the House. I listened with great interest to the contributions, especially those of Deputies representing the electoral area directly adjacent to Dublin Airport. As Chairman of the Oireachtas committee dealing with transport, my interest here is to listen to what people are actually saying. What is important, as mentioned in particular by Deputy Broughan, is the relationship between the airport authority and those who live in the area. It is critical to ensure engagement with local people takes place as that is where the future lies for statutory authorities, energy companies proposing controversial infrastructure and companies which have in the past trampled on people's rights, as we all know. I have not spoken to the DAA about this, but If meetings have not already taken place, they ought to. There ought to be consultation and it should not be an "us versus them" project.

Where projects benefit the wider community and not necessarily all of those who live in the adjacent area, the question of the greater good arises for politicians like me. From an economic point of view, we will argue that we must have additional airport capacity. If one is a businessperson involved in the local economy or looking for a job, any improvement or increase in employment prospects will be of benefit. I start from that point and acknowledge that it is a very strong case. Sometimes when one does not live next to something, it does matter to one because one knows the economy benefits. However, the question arises as to whether adequate attention has been paid to the people who live adjacent to airports or infrastructure carrying energy from one part of the country to the other. We have seen in rural areas that as pylons come closer to their homes, people get more excited and concerned. They become extremely agitated and upset. One of the issues here is the question of the benefit to the local community. Is there an additional benefit for those who live near or adjacent to infrastructural projects like these?

That is why I refer to the engagement of the DAA with residents' associations. That process must be separate from the project itself. Attempts should be made to identify what increased community benefits could be made available near airports and so on. Given the noise issue, the very first consideration is a commitment to use the airport at the times which least discommode people.

Second, nobody would argue that airport authorities want only the noisiest airplanes in the world to be landing in their airports. Of course they do not. Aircraft technology is obviously improving. Noise levels are hugely important internationally. The idea is that they should be reduced and that best practice should be to ensure the least noise possible from aircraft. I know that airport authorities cannot dictate who lands and who does not, but these are issues that offer hope for the future in this regard. The objective of everybody is that noise levels would decrease rather than increase, that communities would engage with the airport authorities, and that there would be proper and respectful negotiations and discussions between them.

As I understand from the discussions we have had separately with the Minister's departmental officials, the issues are around the capacity of Fingal County Council to act as an independent, authoritative, and knowledgeable body in making this decision initially. This capacity has been questioned because of the special skills required to adjudicate on issues like these. One point which I think is particularly clear is that, whether it is Fingal County Council, the EPA or another agent that will ultimately make this decision, very specialised knowledge and skills are required which I understand may have to come from outside experts or people who have specialist knowledge in this area. In those meetings we looked at how other countries make these decisions and at who makes these decisions for them. Whoever makes it must have the relevant knowledge and skills.

The question being asked locally about the capacity of Fingal County Council, if and when it gets that authority, is whether there will be sufficient assurances, reassurances and, for want of a better word, Chinese walls in place to ensure that there will be a totally and absolutely clear demarcation between data and information coming out of the part of the council which will be designated for that purpose and the rest of that operation. That does not mean that officials could not have tea and coffee together or park in the same car park, but the key point for credibility is that there must be clarity. How that clarity is achieved is a matter for the airport authority, the Minister and his officials to talk about, but that is critical.

From what I have heard, some people, including some public representatives, may be of the opinion that this is a done deal and that the path of least resistance will be taken. Fingal County Council gets an income from commercial activities and the bigger the airport and the more runways it has, the more it will be paid in rates. There is an issue there. While obviously the Minister cannot put that in legislation, or I presume he cannot, getting a commitment in that respect would be useful and positive. I would like to think that, when we come to Committee Stage, we could go through those issues with the Minister and his officials. Out of it all will come a vibrant and growing economy. Obviously even a soft Brexit will create problems and will have a serious negative effect on our society and economy. Dublin Airport should and must develop, but it must develop in the best possible way with empathy, understanding, appreciation and commitment to the people who live nearest to it.

Fingal County Council should and must give reassurances in respect of the decision making process and its complete and utter separation from the other affairs of the council, because at the end of the day it will be the planning authority as well as the authority with the capacity, under the legislation, to make this recommendation.

I want to say a few words about the airport if I may. I have not been there for a while but one of the things that annoys me when I go in - and I beg the Acting Cathaoirleach's indulgence for a moment to say this - is that I find the cost of purchasing items such as food in the airport is sky high. While one does not mind paying it because one might be travelling at 6 a.m. or whatever, the airport, particularly some of the eating areas, is in a very bad condition. The seating is frayed and the place is often filthy dirty. It annoys me to see the muck, dirt, filth and lack of attention in some of the eating areas and the arrogance of the franchisee who does not care about where one sits or what one's surroundings are like. When I have been there I have consistently found that to be the case. If people from the DAA are listening, I would ask them if they do audits of standards of hygiene and cleanliness. I am talking about ordinary cleanliness. There is muck and dirt on the floor and frayed and torn pieces of furniture. It is absolutely unacceptable and I ask the Minister to say that to the DAA if and when he gets a chance to meet with it. I will get the chance when I meet with it. I would like to see how frequently the cleanliness, hygiene, value for money, and what the consumers are getting are audited. Millions of us go through there every year.

Obviously this legislation is not about any of that. It is about working, in the most appropriate and respectful way, with the people who will be most concerned about this decision. I wish the legislation well. I look forward to Committee Stage and the discussions we will have at that time.

I thank all those who took part in this Second Stage debate. I do not doubt for one moment that all of them are looking after the interests of their constituents and of the nation as they see them and that the contributions to this debate have been sincere. I do not agree with them all, but they have certainly been expressed in terms which are moderate and sensible and they have shown a knowledge of the airport and the airlines, which is very welcome in a debate of this sort. I look forward to the passage of this legislation on Second Stage this evening. I hope to herald an early Committee Stage in January. I believe that is what is planned. We will be able to thrash out some of the detail there. I have said quite specifically to Deputies that if there are constructive improving amendments to this legislation, we will welcome them. I am not, under any circumstances, putting a bar on amendments. What I am saying is that the passage of this Bill is urgent for reasons which I believe everybody understands.

It has something to do with the delay, for which I have taken a certain amount of blame. The delay that occurred with this legislation was mostly legally led. The Attorney General found that the early decision to appoint the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, was not legally sound and advised against going ahead with choosing it as the competent regulator. That was as frustrating for me and the Government as it is for the Members of this House. They are now expressing that frustration very eloquently. I am somewhat at a loss as to what they are advising I should have done in the face of that advice. Had I said that the advice was flawed, not taken any notice of it, and gone ahead with the decision to appoint the IAA, what would those Deputies be saying to me now? They would be saying that it was an irresponsible and reckless attitude to one of the most important decisions I have to take in this job.

They would be saying that this would be judicially reviewed, that it would be challenged in the courts, delayed and God knows where it would be going for years. That would have had some justification and I would have had to justify taking a decision against legal advice from the highest legal officer in the land. I have been challenged on it, probably with justification. It would undoubtedly have been inviting challenge by taking a decision of that sort and we would be in a much bigger mess than we would have liked to have been in.

I defend without equivocation the decision to take that legal advice. I would have much preferred if it had not happened but in light of events that were happening elsewhere, that was a decision which the Attorney General took. I, along with others, decided after that Fingal County Council would be an appropriate independent noise regulator. I agree that has provoked and prompted some very good, fine and fair questions but I do not accept the situation which has been presented to us that in some way Fingal County Council will lack the independence necessary to carry out this particular function.

Deputy Broughan said that 40% of Fingal County Council's income comes from the airport. He is not in the Chamber now but I do not know where in the name of God he got that figure. The figure I have got that is coming through is 8%. I would be happy to discuss it with him on Committee Stage. In debates of this sort we continuously get figures like that flung around but not backed up by any authority or expertise. It is wrong to quote figures which have no backing or which are not, as far as I know, supported by evidence. In a debate of this sort, if the figure is 8%, it is a long way from 40%.

I appreciate Deputy O'Dowd's point about making sure that there is no conflict and ensuring that if data were coming out which might conflict Fingal County Council, that this should be prevented. I do not believe it will happen but if there was a danger of it, let us make sure that any information is ring-fenced if it is necessary, and I will make those representations at the appropriate time. Whatever about the merits of Fingal County Council, and I stand firmly behind it, I do not believe anyone is challenging the independence of the people in An Board Pleanála as the final appeal. We seem to have a pretty strong, robust system of adjudication, one with which I am totally satisfied, although I accept that Deputies from the area should be expressing those views and I hope to reassure them that Fingal County Council will make a very fine noise regulator.

On the issue of noise, several Deputies voiced the views of the residents of the area and pointed out how difficult it has been for them living with that noise and having had that pressure for many years. They are right. It is a different type of existence to live with the disturbance of airport noise on a regular basis, and I have never had to live with it. To suggest that we are in some way rushing a decision against any kind of representations in the face of all the representations of the people of the area is not true. The DAA certainly has been carrying out very serious consultations with the residents on a regular basis. Deputies may be critical of those consultations and say that they do not get results for the residents. Deputy Broughan asked me if I would meet the residents of St. Margaret's. Since I have been in office I have met numerous residents from the areas represented by Deputies Brendan Ryan, Deputy Darragh O'Brien and, I believe, Deputy Broughan. I have met representatives of residents' associations and representatives of Travellers and of farmers who are affected, who have specifically come forward to inform me, and consequently my officials and others, about the noise situation. All those have been referred by me to the DAA, after having taken copious note of what they had to say. It would be wrong to say that they are being ignored.

I refer to another comment made in the debate this evening in light of the genuine concern of residents. Deputy Farrell said there seems to be some sort of a narrative that a new regulator will change the conditions and take a different attitude to noise and to the second runway. He is right. It would be completely and utterly wrong to second-guess what the noise regulator will decide. We are not doing that. We are not second-guessing that. We do not know. The noise regulator will be utterly independent and free to make a decision, as will An Bord Pleanála when the appeal is made. We do not know what decision will be made by an independent noise regulator and to assume that something will be different or the same, or better or worse, is wrong. We do not know what it will be doing. We are responding to a European directive and appointing an entity which we believe is the best possible one to do the job. What decision it will make is an unknown. That is what good regulators do. I would be perfectly happy to accept that. We may not like its decision but we will have to abide by it.

I accept much of what the Deputies have said is very welcome and constructive. Nobody in this debate wants to see a situation where the airport's expansion is in any way obstructed. Dublin Airport is a vital part of the infrastructure and the connectivity for which this island has a compelling need. It would wrong to do anything to obstruct it. We must facilitate it but we must be sensitive to the views of the residents and the independence of any decisions that are being made. As with other means of transport, it is important that they connect to serve the people of this country and people from abroad who travel here. The prosperity of the nation depends to a large extent on our connectivity by sea, air and hauliers, and it is my job to see that Dublin Airport, as the main transit point by far for passengers, is working to full capacity. That is why any move to delay any legislation of this sort would be irresponsible and I do not want to see that happening, but responsible decisions must be taken within that particular framework.

I look forward very much to Committee and Report Stage taking place in a responsible and constructive atmosphere like the one we have had here today and yesterday. I thank the Deputies who made good suggestions and encourage them to table amendments that are in the national interest. The Government will certainly welcome them because this is too important to become some sort of a plaything for local interests. I do not believe it will become that. The Government will certainly respond in a constructive way to suggestions from other parties and groups if they both help residents and act in the greater national interest of keeping aircraft flying in and out of the country without obstruction.

Question put and agreed to.