Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 are being discussed together.
Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018: Report Stage (Resumed)
Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 deal with the same issue. On Committee Stage an amendment was made to section 6 which introduces two processes for making regulations.
Under the first process, regulations are made and laid before each House of the Oireachtas, with the provision that either House may pass a resolution within 21 days to annul such regulations. This is a standard provision and common across the Statue Book. Under the second process, regulations are first laid in draft form before both Houses and may only be made if a resolution approving the draft regulations is passed by both Houses. In both cases the Oireachtas has an oversight role, but the second process is more detailed and lengthy.
The Committee Stage amendment provides that while the majority of regulations made would follow the first or familiar process, regulations made under subsection 9(9) and subsection 10(16) would follow the second process. The regulations envisaged to be made under subsection 10(16) are to deal with purely administrative and procedural matters relating to An Bord Pleanála processes already in place under the planning code appeals process. Under existing planning law, these are typically subject to the first regulation-making process I mentioned. Therefore, under amendments Nos. 42 and 43, I propose to remove reference to subsection 10(16) from section 6. The effect is that subsection 10(16) regulations will be made and laid before each House of the Oireachtas, with the provision that either House may pass a resolution within 21 days to annul such regulations. I am leaving section 9 regulations, relating to dispute resolution, where they are, as amended on Committee Stage.
I had this amendment passed on Committee Stage, and I welcome that it was passed. I appreciate the input of the officials who tidied it up a little for this Stage. It is as technical as the Minister says. I think it is fine.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 9, line 36, to delete “sections 9(9) and 10(16)” and substitute “section 9(9)”.
Amendments Nos. 44, 54, 67 and 73 are technical drafting amendments and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 44:
In page 10, line 13, to delete “Environmental Noise Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 140 of 2006)” and substitute “European Communities (Environmental Noise) Regulations 2018 (S.I. No. 549 of 2018)”.
This amendment updates a reference to the latest environmental noise guidelines, which implement the 2002 directive into Irish law and which came into effect in December 2018. I wish to clarify that this amendment is required because when the Bill was initiated in November, SI 140 of 2006 was in effect at the time. That statutory instrument was replaced in December 2018 with SI 594 of 2018. This amendment simply updates that reference.
The Minister has only dealt with amendment No. 44, but-----
I will deal with the others. Does the House want me to discuss the rest of them first?
They are all grouped together, so yes.
I will discuss the others then.
It is a weird grouping.
I will discuss them all together.
They are all grouped together.
We had an extended debate last week on the World Health Organization, WHO, guidelines, which is probably what Deputy Daly is concerned about. In that debate I explained that it was not possible to introduce amendments which have the effect of changing EU regulations, even if I wanted to do so. In coming to this amendment, I understand that there might be some confusion that I am doing precisely that. I am not. The amendment simply updates a cross-reference to another key EU provision related to noise.
I also wish to clarify that under the Interpretation Act 2005, should the EU environmental noise directive change in the future, giving rise to new implementing guidelines, when those changes are given force to an updated statutory instrument, that update will have direct applicability to this legislation.
Amendments Nos. 54, 67 and 73 merely reword and clarify Opposition amendments carried on Committee Stage. The competent authority will notify elected members of Fingal County Council and Members of Dáil Éireann in whose constituency the airport is located. The amendments are tabled purely for drafting reasons and make no substantive change to the Bill.
I agree with Deputy Daly that this grouping is rather strange. Taking amendment No. 44 separately, amendments Nos. 54, 67 and 73 arise out of work we did on Committee Stage. I am glad the Minister has incorporated that work into his amendments because this is what we sought in respect of the consultation process and the provisions concerning elected members of Fingal County Council. Those amendments are fine. I would like the Minister to come back to amendment No. 44, however. I mentioned this amendment to him, and Deputy Daly and I discussed it with his officials at length in advance of Report Stage. It was also debated on Committee Stage at length. I refer to the WHO noise guidelines of 2018 and their insertion into the definitions section of the Bill. We were told at the time - Deputy Daly might back me up on this - that these guidelines would be put into the definitions section of the Bill. With amendment No. 44, that does not appear to be what the Minister is proposing. Is it his intention to use the updated 2018 WHO European noise guidelines and put them into the Bill? I know that is what we all want. What is the Minister's aim with amendment No. 44? We understand the other amendments. They arise out of changes we sought on Committee State and I am glad they are incorporated. However, I would like further clarification on amendment No. 44.
I am not a member of the transport committee so I did not get a chance to follow this debate but I sought to do something similar with amendment No. 45. The Minister spoke to me about this earlier, I think. I refer to the references to SI 549 and the fact that the statutory instrument is the Irish enactment of Directive 2002/49/EC. I think the concern constituents have is that the statutory instrument would take precedence over the EU directive. This is more or less what I think my colleagues are referring to. If the EU intends to change Directive 2002/49/EC to take account of the WHO guidelines, which is what we all want to see, will we then have to issue a new statutory instrument? Will we be left behind in this regard? I think the Minister refers to this in amendment No. 78 as well. There is concern that there is not explicit reference to SI 549 of 2018. The Minister has locked us into this until it is replaced by a future statutory instrument to take account of changes to Directive 2002/49/EC. If there are those changes enforcing WHO guidelines, are we in fact being left out because we are not including the latest revision of Directive 2002/49/EC? We have all had emails, and this is a concern I have heard from residents and my constituents in Dublin Bay North. How does the Minister explain this? Is there a lacuna here? Are we leaving residents and everyone on the flight path in the lurch in this regard?
This grouping is problematic. Amendments Nos. 54, 67 and 73 are fine, as has been said. They concern the consultation with the local representatives in the area and are purely technical changes to improve the Bill. However, amendments Nos. 44 and 45 and probably amendments Nos. 47 and 48 in the next grouping all deal with the health issue, and the problem is precisely as Deputy Broughan has said. We made the points the last day we were here to discuss the Bill, and I will not repeat them. There is a perception that by our specifying this statutory instrument, we are in effect not updating or improving the situation, as the Minister said. The belief is rather that we are actually introducing a delay into the process, that rather than the automatic updating, which would come through EU Regulation No. 598, by specifying this statutory instrument there will be a delay and we will have to change the statutory instrument to bring us up to date with EU Regulation No. 598. I think we need the groupings changed because there are a number of amendments concerning health matters that are dependent on one another. Could we get some guidance on this?
The Minister might wish to explain the matter. We are discussing the amendments together but we will vote on them one by one. Does the Minister wish to clarify?
Yes. In answer to Deputy Broughan, a statutory instrument will not take precedence over any EU directive.
All developments at EU level will apply to the Bill.
To respond to Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I considered the issue of how best to include the health references, which I will speak about in more detail when we come to amendment No. 59, and where in the Bill such references had most meaning. One option included seeking to have references made in the interpretation section of the Bill. The amendments follow considerable deliberation and have had regard to legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General. Reflecting that deliberative process, I have put forward amendments to be placed under the relevant parts of the Bill which provide that the noise regulator will ensure that health aspects are assessed in accordance with the relevant legislation when considering noise at the airport.
When taken with the assurance that the 2002 directive and the noise regulations of 2018 will apply, the amendments will allay any fears that health aspects have been ignored.
While I accept that we will vote on the amendments individually, the grouping is slightly problematic because the Minister also referred to amendment No. 59, which would be a helpful amendment because it states, "health aspects shall be assessed in accordance with the Environmental Noise Directive and European Communities (Environmental Noise) Regulations 2018". Therefore, that amendment would update the regulation. Will that amendment have the same effect that we discussed before Report Stage? Will the Minister and his officials clarify that the environmental noise directive of 2018 will be included in the Act in so far as it pertains to any health or noise directives? Will it be included in the Act when the noise regulator makes assessments? It is important that it would be.
Yes, it will be included.
The situation remains a little confusing and we should be discussing the amendments collectively. On the Minister's point that the statutory instrument would not take precedence over EU regulation, legislation or whatever, the specific point is being made by referencing the statutory instrument in our primary legislation. We are giving it a legislative effect that would, in essence, negate the point. I do not know if that is an inaccurate interpretation of the point being made. The belief is that if it was just a statutory instrument, it would certainly not take precedence. That it is a statutory instrument which we will transpose into our primary legislation, however, will give it the primacy that could result in a delay when updating the regulations.
In the briefings that we agreed to have between Committee and Report Stages, we discussed how we could incorporate a consideration of the health impacts and how it would be mandated upon the new competent authority to take that into account based on the most up-to-date scientific information and WHO guidelines. While it is true that it will have that effect if we agree to the 2018 regulations, the problem is that there is a reference to the statutory instrument.
I am not sure if my interpretation is correct but, having listened to the Minister's answer, I am none the wiser.
Deputy Clare Daly has essentially made the point that I had intended to make. People want the competent authority, Fingal County Council, to rigorously adhere to the latest noise regulation, which is what we are trying to achieve. The concern among people was that without a direct reference to SI 598 in the text, there seemed to be a lacuna because our own legislation could lag behind. Given that we are legislating for such an important aspect of the airport's operation and given that we want to adhere to the latest WHO guidelines, is it not incumbent on the Minister to spell out the matter carefully? There is grave concern that we could be left behind as people seek to change night-time limits and so on for aircraft movements. People living on the flight path or, for example, in the neighbourhood of St. Margaret's could again be the losers.
My understanding is that the amendment is an insertion into Part 2 under section 23. Part 2 of the Bill clearly relates to the "Process of Aircraft Noise Regulation" but the amendment will insert the new, up-to-date statutory instrument, which will be of benefit to residents who live in close proximity to the airport because it refers to the newest and most up-to-date regulation. The section also refers to the appropriate assessment of the environment in accordance with the habitats directive. Importantly, the amendment which we requested in deliberations between Committee Stage and Report Stage will insert, "In this Part, health aspects shall be assessed in accordance with the Environmental Noise Directive and the European Communities (Environmental Noise) Regulations 2018".
Will the Minister clarify that the amendment is of benefit to the Bill, that it is an improvement to the Bill and, most importantly, that it will alleviate the concerns of the residents who have genuine fears that the health aspects of the Bill have been somewhat diluted? At the previous session in which we debated the Bill, the Minister's defence of many amendments that he had submitted was quite poor. There needs to be greater clarity and assurance. The Minister must take the opportunity during the debate to answer some of the questions I have asked about the resources, openness and transparency as to why he has opted for Fingal County Council. Unfortunately, at the previous session the Minister tried to play silly party politics and take pot shots at Deputy Mattie McGrath rather than answering serious questions that I had raised. Will the Minister take the opportunity of this debate to address not my concerns but those of many residents? He should forget about the silly politics of his public spats with his former friend and colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath.
I wish also to set out my party's rationale for supporting Deputy Clare Daly's amendment in respect of the WHO. To be fair, the Minister's officials have led the debate on the matter and have been more helpful. Sometimes I wonder how much understanding of the legislation the Minister has. In our discussions with the officials, it was noted that the final page of the EU regulation states, "Based on work the WHO is currently undertaking regarding the methodology to assess health implications of the noise impact, the Commission intends to revise Annex III to Directive 2002/49/ EC". It is up to Deputy Clare Daly to explain her rationale but my understanding is that her reason for using a carbon copy of those words was the Minister's indication that he could not change anything that was not stated in the regulations. I recently informed the Minister that it was stated in the regulations and that, therefore, we would support Deputy Clare Daly's amendment to include it in the definitions.
The Minister gave an undertaking to me on the night that he would have that revisited and see whether he is able to do that. In his response to our concerns here, will he say whether that can be done or, in his opinion, if this insertion in section 9(23) will give effect to what we are seeking?
If there is nobody else, the Minister will have just two minutes for a final contribution, so may need to focus on it.
It is a yes or a no.
I would like to reply to everybody individually but do not have time. I will reply to everybody generally. The EU directive is implemented by way of statutory instrument. That should be clarified. The reference to SI 594/2018 is not about delaying, as Deputy Troy says. It is an improvement.
I did not say that.
There is no attempt to cause delay to developments on health at an EU level. There may be a misunderstanding here. I will address this again with regard to amendment No. 59 if necessary. Health is fully referenced in regulation 598, the 2002 environmental noise directive and the 2018 regulations implementing that directive. The competent authority is required to have regard to each of these documents when assessing the noise situation at the airport and making any decision on measures to mitigate a noise problem. All developments at EU level will apply to this Bill.
That is all we wanted to clarify.
I move amendment No. 45:
In page 10, line 13, after “2006)” to insert “, Regulation (EU) No 598/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014”.
I move amendment No. 46:
In page 10, line 14, to delete “and the Environmental Noise Directive” and substitute the following:
“the Environmental Noise Directive, and the Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region (2018)”.
Amendments Nos. 47, 48, 53, 59, 60, 78 and 79 are related. No. 79 is consequential on No. 78. Amendments Nos. 47, 48, 53, 59, 60, 78 and 79 will be discussed together. Amendment No. 47 is in the names of Deputies Coppinger, Murphy and Barry.
I move amendment No. 48:
In page 10, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“(c) the likely effect of the identified noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions (if any) is thoroughly evaluated in relation to its projected impact on the well-being and health of local residents;”.
Amendment No. 48 would ensure the inclusion of the well-being and health of local residents in decision-making on noise at the airport. Amendment No. 53 ensures that the onus is on the authority to report on the effect its decision had on local residents and how their requirements were taken into consideration. From the start, local residents felt completely left out of the process and have legitimate concerns about the planning issues. These amendments encourage consultation with local residents. Trust in the noise regulator and other related authorities has taken a battering and there are serious concerns about retrospective changes to planning for flights and other developments at the airport. That is the main fear of residents with regard to retrospective changes that will be made hereafter. The health of local residents is being put at risk and it is imperative that consultation takes places with them and that their health and wishes are taken on board by the competent authority, An Bord Pleanála and the airport. The amendment will provide for that input from residents and I hope that other Members will support it.
I understand that the Department and its lawyers are saying that health is covered by EU regulations and it is not required to include it again. The Minister said that including it in legislation would somehow give it precedence over other matters but at the end of the day, it is entirely appropriate for health to be given that precedence. The health of people in the vicinity of the airport is given precedence. We should ensure that human health is a priority in the legislation, given all of the concerns about residents. I believe this amendment would achieve that.
This is a substantial part of the Bill and health has been a considerable part of the discussions that we have had during the passage of this legislation. We have to be honest that the directive provides for consideration to be given to health implications. Nobody on this side of the House has ever denied that that is the case. It is provided for and there are references to the 2018 guidelines and so on. However, we have to be cognisant that there is a significant trust issue. Spelling it out is necessary in the context of some other decisions that the Minister has taken.
Sadly, those are decisions such as the one taken last week to appoint Fingal County Council as the competent authority. People believe that their interests are jeopardised by that decision. Their confidence is not strengthened by the reports that they read in the media during the week of the release of communications between the director of services and planning in Fingal County Council with the Minister and his Department, spelling out to the Minister that they did not feel they were best-placed for the gig. We made the point here that Fingal County Council did not want it but the director of planning there was in communication with the Minister's Department last November, after his decision to appoint the council as the authority, and she stated: "[We have] an extensive remit in both shaping and determining the strategic direction of Dublin Airport through its land-use planning and associated functions." She said that the council was also responsible for determining applications for planning purposes. She stated: "In light of the existing complex and varied role that Fingal County Council plays as outlined above, it is considered that the council may not be best placed to act as the competent authority." She said that the council does not have the requisite competencies available in areas of aviation operations, noise and economic feasibility assessments. She suggested that other bodies would be better for the job. We found out that it will have to contract in specialist services to monitor noise at an approximate cost of €1 million per year, in a council €200 million in debt, with no idea where the money to fund this regulation will come from other than the reference to collecting a levy from the DAA, an organisation which has similarly borrowed hundreds of millions to fund the next runway. Taking all of that into account, one can understand and realise that those who will do the monitoring will be private consultants who are outside the scope of freedom of information and Oireachtas scrutiny. It is then pretty understandable why residents would be concerned and would say that they need to be sure to have a reference relating to health, because past performance does not give much confidence.
While I fully accept, and it is totally true and I have no problem in saying it, that health is referenced in the directive it is a directive brought in to mitigate the dangers of noise and by implication to benefit human health. The hazards of noise and its implications in early deaths, sleep disruption and heart and cancer issues - all of the research on its impact - mean we have to have a robust system in place. If the only reason these amendments cannot be included, and they have not been ruled out of order so they are obviously valid, is that we do not need them because it is already covered I have no problem supporting them to give that extra layer of assurance. I have tabled an amendment specifying that the World Health Organization, WHO, decibel guidelines should be the denominator for the competent authority. That also will protect human health because the guidelines as set out by the WHO are based on scientific research, best medical practice of the health implications. We need to have that quantified. There is merit in it. That is why it needs to be included.
As we debated on Second and Committee Stages we are left with a Bill very late in the day that had been flagged for nearly two years. We are dealing with an imperfect situation. On Committee Stage I spoke to an amendment tabled by Deputy Troy, our transport spokesperson, about a separate unit within Fingal County Council, to try to find a mid-point. We could not use the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, because of legal advice the Minister said he had received. The Commission for Aviation Regulation, CAR, was resisted. We got a briefing document to say that if my mid-point suggestion was moved the Government would withdraw the Bill. We are trying to find a balanced approach, recognising the fact that I and many residents live in close proximity to the airport and want to make sure that any development of the airport will not have an adverse effect on residents, while also recognising that the airport is an important economic driver for the region, employing over 20,000 people, providing over 100,000 indirect jobs, and is worth approximately €8 billion to the economy. It is not a question of stopping any development but of a balanced approach. When we are left with the imperfect scenario of having Fingal County Council it is even more important at that stage to ensure that additional assurances are given.
We have further amendments to take noise insulation away from DAA which is a sensible approach and to make sure the independent regulator actually has an independent function. When Deputy Munster talks about the likely effect of noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions I am happy that they will be a matter for An Bord Pleanála. We sought this on Committee Stage and it is very specifically mentioned in the Bill. I do not think anyone in this House questions An Bord Pleanála's independence particularly given our experience of it. The board is crucial. I and my party would be completely and utterly opposed to unrestricted night flights. Last week was the first time we heard the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, give an idea of what it was considering. Whoever the noise regulator is those flight restrictions and noise amelioration measures will end up with An Bord Pleanála. A noise regulator and the EU Directive are good for the future development of the airport. If that happens to be Fingal County Council it should be a separate unit within the council, at the very least with a separate chief executive officer, CEO. The different items that the noise regulator should have regard to should be added to the Bill along the lines of Deputy Munster's amendment.
Any future changes will go to An Bord Pleanála. I am better assured now by the insertion of WHO 2018 noise guidelines. That is crucial. That is a big step forward. The clarification given this evening is important because it may have been lacking before now. The noise regulator must have regard to WHO 2018. While it is kind of vague I understand the spirit of the amendment and if it is included I would see no major difficulty unless it has an unintended effect on any other subsections of section 2.
If Fingal County Council is to be the competent authority we need to include in detail the various health aspects. There is a real sense from people that Fingal County Council should not be the competent authority. As we debated amendments last week about who that should be we all had a sense that Fingal County Council did not want the gig. Deputy Clare Daly alluded to a report by Jennifer Bray in yesterday's The Irish Times which quotes a letter from AnnMarie Farrelly to Mr. Towey explaining that the council has "an extensive remit in both shaping and determining the strategic direction of Dublin Airport through its land-use planning and associated functions". When I spoke last week I referred to Fingal County Council and the DAA as economic partners. This letter reflects my view. It is a pity we were not in possession of this letter that the Department officials received at the time we were debating those amendments. In proposing this to Cabinet did the Minister bring this letter from Ms AnnMarie Farrelly to the attention of the Taoiseach, who is in a neighbouring constituency to the airport and whose constituents will be affected by all of these issues? Did he bring it to the attention of other Cabinet members? Were they aware of this letter which says, to quote the headline on the article "Council warned Government it could not be noise regulator for Dublin Airport runway". I would be amazed if the Taoiseach and Cabinet would sign off on this if they had this information.
I support Deputies Daly and Munster and her Sinn Féin colleagues on this.
It was shattering to find in that report, to which previous speakers referred, Fingal County Council's clear desire not to be the noise regulator for all the reasons we laid out last week. If we had known about that letter last week, the debate in that regard would have been even more vigorous. Obviously there were issues about the resources the council would have but, as I said last week, clearly the officials in Fingal County Council, whom I hold in high regard, had great reservations about the course upon which the Minister is embarking because of issues down the line and the possibility that the council would be left open to legal challenge.
A report released only today or yesterday told us that the airport had its busiest January ever this year with more than 2 million passengers passing through. We are heading towards the cap as an annual figure of 40 million passengers might not be far away. There were many reports involved in the Fingal County Council consultation. In June 2016, RPS Group produced the environmental impact statement scoping report on the north runway proposal. Chapter 3.3 of that report is entirely devoted to human health and the impact of aviation noise thereon. It noted issues such as potential changes in concentration exposure to ground-borne emissions, airborne emissions, community disruption and the potential for bad health outcomes. It also lists annoyance, academic performance, sleep disturbance, risk of injury and so on as issues.
The evidence raised in the Fingal consultation with regard to environmental noise, including aircraft noise, which includes evidence from the European Environment Agency, EEA, and the World Health Organization, lists a wide range of medical conditions and other issues. These include cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction; cognitive impairment, including impacts on children's reading and education; the deep impacts sleep disturbance can have on people's daily lives; tinnitus; hearing loss; the sheer annoyance of being bothered by relentless aircraft noise; and impacts on quality of life and well-being. That is the other side. That is why amendment No. 60 in my name, echoing what colleagues have said, seeks to introduce an absolute requirement, under the EU directive or otherwise, for a longitudinal study over a number of years on the impacts of noise on residents. The amendment proposes to include this requirement in the legislation in black and white, as I know my colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, has done in respect of the 45 dB and 40 dB levels. It should be specified in the legislation.
The balanced approach is in the directive. People talk about a balanced approach which would include quieter aircraft and all kinds of noise abatement measures but, as I said the last day, one of the problems we have in our legislation is that there is no comprehensive noise legislation regime or national regulator. We have not established one so far. Local authorities have to deal with the matter day in, day out. In that context, I ask the Minister to try to address this by including this specific measure in the legislation. Such a measure is laid out very clearly in amendments Nos. 6 and 53. The Minister could also provide for some version of my amendment No. 60, which would make abating and ameliorating health impacts arising from noise a high priority for us.
Anybody who represents residents of areas close to Dublin Airport will know that the airport is critically important to the economic life of the area and the whole Dublin region. It is one of the major factors in the region's growth. It is also a major cash cow for Fingal County Council in terms of the rates base it constitutes. Anybody who was a member of Dublin County Council, as it was known, and subsequently Fingal County Council will know that much of the council's economic strategy is based on the development of the airport.
I do not know how familiar the Minister is with Dublin Airport or its economic progress and plans. For some time, it has been making itself into a hub, particularly for people from the United Kingdom but increasingly for passengers transiting from many different parts of the world. People are catching a flight to Dublin, hopping off and then travelling onwards on a second flight. The consequence of this is that for some years now Dublin Airport Authority has been keen to increase the number of hours during which flights in and out of Dublin Airport are allowed. Everybody here knows that one of its objectives is to commence flights much earlier in the morning, perhaps two hours earlier, with perhaps one additional hour of flights at night. As the Minister knows, the DAA is allowed to breach the current times in a number of exceptional circumstances and has availed of these to the maximum. Many residents believe it has exceeded the maximum. That has consequences in a country in which there is little or no protection against noise pollution. It is a very poorly served area in Irish law. Anyone who has been on a county council will be aware of that, even in respect of relatively simple problems people have with noise.
It also has to borne in mind that all of the medical evidence shows that bad noise pollution is a very serious health issue for a cohort of people. Noise affects people in different ways. It does not bother some people that much while it can turn other people's lives upside down and make their lives a misery. If the Minister was reading newspapers, magazines or books over Christmas, or if he visited any bookshops, he will know that bookshops are loaded with books about the necessity of a good night's sleep for people's health.
Fingal County Council has a vested interest in the success and expansion of Dublin Airport. Over a long period it has, in its role as a planning authority, sought to facilitate the airport. We all understand that. The Minister is now appointing that entity to be the regulator of noise, which is a significant problem for a number of communities around the airport. Over the past ten to 20 years there has been some noise mitigation, for instance, soundproofing measures have been implemented. In many cases, people have had triple glazing installed which has significantly reduced the noise problem, without eliminating it. It appears the game plan is to extend significantly the hours of flying at the airport. In its letter to the Department late last year the council basically said it was not equipped to perform the noise regulation function. It was right. What will it do now? Will it simply appoint consultants and outsource this function to some commercial organisation? That would not be a satisfactory outcome. This function should be carried out by a public body. While Fingal County Council has many very good attributes - I was a member of the council several times - it is not suited to this particular role.
As many others have advised the Minister, if he proceeds with this proposal without listening to the people who represent areas near Dublin Airport, he will ultimately end up in the courts here and in Europe. I have no doubt about that. It is to be hoped that the courts will eventually provide for proper regulation. On many occasions, both as a journalist and in his political career, the Minister has noted the requirement that Ministers and others act with probity, concern and care where the rights of individual citizens are at stake.
What is at stake here is people trying to deal with noise, trying to get a good night's sleep because they have to go out to work the next day or simply need a good night's sleep if they are retired. The Minister is being foolish in deciding to persist with a course of action on a proposed regulator that does not fit the bill for proper regulation in any ordinary sense of the word. I support the amendments tabled by Deputies Clare Daly and Munster. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but I believe there is very little legislation in Ireland that really deals with noise pollution as it is dealt with in many of our counterpart countries. It just does not exist in Ireland. It is all over the place in different little bits of legislation and planning regulations. When somebody is seriously affected by noise it can literally destroy his or her life. I ask the Minister to take that into account and to accept some of the very sensible amendments that are being offered.
It is very regrettable that the information from Fingal County Council was not available last week when we were having this debate. Given that it is available now, I would be interested in hearing the Minister's views on the fact that Fingal County Council does not feel capable of being the regulator. There is serious concern among local residents. Those of us who represent them have spoken to them and they have told us they have concerns. Their concerns relate to the health and safety of the people who live in the environs of the airport. They are deeply concerned about the appointment of Fingal County Council as the regulator.
It turns out Fingal County Council is also deeply concerned about this. There seems to be some sort of faith placed in the council that it does not have in itself. The amendments tabled by Deputies Clare Daly and Munster relate to protecting the health of those who live in the environs of the airport. I cannot see that there would be a reasonable argument against them. One amendment calls for an evaluation of the likely effect on the well-being and health of local residents. Given what we know about the impact that noise has on people and their capacity to be healthy, I am not sure there is going to be any difficulty with recording that. I do not know how the Minister would be able to argue against it. Perhaps he has a good argument in his notes that he is going to share with us but I doubt it. What they are looking for are protections that the Minister says he is willing to give anyway. There is no harm in being belt and braces about it if the residents are concerned, as they genuinely are. They are not foolish. They live beside the airport and are accustomed to it as their neighbour. They are equally aware of the contribution that Dublin Airport makes, not just to the local economy but to the broader economy as well. Nobody is trying to argue against that. We are simply proposing amendments that will assist in ensuring that the health and safety of the people who live in the environs of the airport is protected.
I am speaking in my capacity as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. I could not be here last week. The committee's approach has been to work with the Minister, the Department and all the parties and Independents who attended our meetings. Our whole objective was to get the best deal for the residents and to make sure the regulator was properly appointed.
I expressed concerns about the capacity of Fingal County Council to take on the regulatory role but we went with what we were advised. We had two meetings with officials and a long committee meeting. Everybody wanted to facilitate the best possible outcome for all. However, the fact that the letter was not disclosed to us was wrong. It should have been disclosed. I ask the Minister why it was not disclosed. It was a germane point. A lot of people raised it. It is not about the letter itself; it is about the trust that people have in regulation itself, the trust I want to have in the regulator. Fingal County Council will not actually be doing it; I presume it will be providing the envelope, buildings, facilities or whatever. However, we need to get it spelled out. It creates questions in my mind.
At the very least, notwithstanding whatever views they may have at the end of the day, I want the residents to be happy that everything is totally above board and that nothing has been willingly kept from this Oireachtas committee. I would like to know why we did not see that letter. It would have required the Minister to make a different argument because knowledge of it would have informed people's opinions. It is very late in the day to be looking for it now but we have a right to ask that it be given to us, perhaps by way of a briefing note as to what arrangements Fingal County Council is going to make, what procedures are going to be in place, the expected cost and the location. We raised this point ourselves during the debate, in respect of the question of firewalls between anything to do with planning and the activities of Fingal County Council and the regulator itself.
A Deputy made a very important point about freedom of information and being able to get at the truth. People are entitled to know the full facts. They are entitled to have fair, objective and transparent regulation. I am not saying the matter is under a cloud. I will be voting for the legislation but the Minister needs to explain a bit more to us in the interests of transparency and accountability. It is an important point. I am thankful for the journalist who found it out because we were not told about it. There is a fundamental issue of trust here between Oireachtas Members and the Minister. There is no conflict. Even tonight nobody is saying they do not recognise the issues. That needs to be repaired and built on. I ask the Minister to do that.
I will try to address the issue of health first. I will then address the issue of the freedom of information request and press coverage in my second reply. I understand I have seven minutes for my first reply and two for my second.
I remind the House that we are adjourning at 11.15 p.m.
On Committee Stage, we were all in agreement that the impact on health of noise is a very important element of effective noise assessment and noise regulation. To fully understand what will be required of the noise regulator, this Bill must be read along with the 2002 environmental noise directive and the environmental noise regulations implementing that directive. The noise regulator will be required to ensure that any noise assessment is in line with that legislation, which makes specific reference to the impact on human health.
My reservations about the Opposition amendments put forward in respect of health are not on grounds of principle but simply on grounds of legal drafting in respect of what we are allowed to do and what we are not allowed to do when giving effect to EU regulations. For that reason, regretfully, I will not be accepting amendments Nos. 47, 48, 53 and 60. Interested Deputies have been talking to my officials about what is possible here. My officials listened to Deputies on this one and they and I agree that the absence of any specific reference to health does look like we might be ignoring the issue entirely.
I am therefore tabling amendments Nos. 59, 78 and 79. In doing so, I wish to make it clear that I considered the issue of how best to include these health references, and indeed where in the Bill such references would have most meaning. Options included seeking to have references made in the interpretation section of the Bill, as suggested by Deputy Darragh O'Brien.
Could the Minister repeat that?
The amendments I am tabling are accepted on foot of considerable deliberation. I have had regard to legal advice on the matter and the advice of the draftspeople in the Office of the Attorney General. Reflecting that deliberative process, I am tabling these amendments, to be placed under the relevant parts of the Bill which specifically set out that the noise regulator will ensure that health aspects are assessed in accordance with the relevant legislation when considering the noise situation at the airport. I believe these amendments, when taken with the assurances that the 2002 directive and 2018 environmental noise regulations will apply, will allay any fears that health aspects are being ignored.
I thank all of the Deputies for their contributions on this matter this evening, last week and on Committee Stage. In particular, I know that Deputies Troy, Darragh O'Brien and Clare Daly followed up with my Department after Committee Stage to reinforce the importance of this Bill clearly referring to health as a part of any noise assessment. Those Deputies pushed hard for a solution. We sought legal advice and found the best way forward. We have a much better Bill as a result of this engagement. I thank those Deputies, and indeed all Deputies who contributed to the Bill. It has improved specifically in the health area. We have all been pushing in the same direction. The main difficulty has been that some of the amendments tabled are not as legally robust as those we have tabled in order to meet the requirements of the Members of the Opposition.
Perhaps the Minister could clarify for us the amendments he referred to.
I could not hear the Minister; I was not just interrupting.
The amendments referred to were amendments Nos. 59, 78 and 79.
We are only debating amendment No. 48 at the moment.
The Minister made reference to the insertion of those amendments and I could not hear it during his contribution. I would appreciate it if he could circulate that note so that we could read it.
We are dealing with amendment No. 48 only. We can have a second round of contributions.
These amendments are grouped.
The amendments should be taken individually.
The Minister could come back a second time for two minutes.
What about the questions we raised?
It is true that there were many questions. The clock is still ticking, but the Minister will only have two minutes for his next contribution. We still have three minutes.
I believe many Deputies are anxious for me to address the issue of freedom of information, FOI, and press coverage. Fingal County Council is on record that it is satisfied that its concerns were addressed before recommendations were made by me to the Government. Deputies have said that that information on FOIs and press coverage should have come out earlier. There seems to be some sort of misconception around this, and I do not know why. Deputy Burton referred to last year. The letter dates from 2017.
Why will the Minister not bring the letter to the House and give it to us?
It is very important that we get the context of this. It was delivered at a very early stage, in 2017. The Deputy said it was last year, but it was not.
I am aware of the recent report in The Irish Times on issues raised by Fingal County Council in 2017 around its suitability for the job of noise regulator. To be clear, these concerns were raised during the exploratory process undertaken by my Department to identify a suitable State body to be the noise regulator when it became clear that the IAA was not suitable. There were initial concerns, all of which were addressed. I understand that the very same matter was reported by RTE last October following the pre-legislative scrutiny stage of this Bill. To my mind it simply reveals that there was a process which included exchanges of views, discussions of key issues and risks and, importantly, legal and policy advices on these issues. It also reveals that many of the issues raised in this Chamber and on Committee Stage about the suitability of Fingal County Council as the noise regulator were discussed and fully worked through before any firm proposal was put to me and before the Government was asked to make a decision on the matter. Moreover, I advised this House during the same period that the work to identify a suitable body to act as the noise regulator was going on behind the scenes at official level.
It is interesting that, in the context of this Bill, I have been accused of making it up as I go along and not thinking things through. The record actually shows that issues such as suitability, resources and potential conflicts of interests surfaced early on and were examined and addressed. There were no surprises. It is already a matter of public record that Fingal County Council had concerns at the outset. It shared those concerns, which is healthy. It certainly counters any suggestion that this was some sort of ready-up or that Fingal County Council has some hidden vested interest in being the regulator, which has been the undercurrent in some contributions to this debate. This regulatory function is being assigned to Fingal County Council because of its experience of and existing responsibilities for environmental regulations, including environmental noise for planning and development, and in respect of managing large and effective public consultations, as I have outlined many times before. Due diligence was carried out by my Department and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Fingal County Council and the Office of the Attorney General. This was the correct approach. All issues were aired, analysed and examined in an objective, evidence-based manner. There is no issue of conflict - that has been legally tested - and the resource issue has also been addressed.
I find the response of the Minister to be really disappointing. The Minister, in this Oireachtas, has railed against the Judiciary and described appointments to it as not being appropriate, yet he is now talking about a regulatory situation where the regulator, appointed and selected by the Minister, is absolutely mired in conflicts of interest. It is responsible for planning and for being the local authority partner of a major airport, which is of enormous significance to the economy and of the country. The Minister has railed against everybody on the matter of judicial appointments, but he is now proposing something similar for the noise regulator. This is something that is really important in people's lives, and important to the life of the airport, which is important economically to the whole country. The level of conflict of interest is unbelievable, and he has not explained to us why the letter was not released. He sat on it while all of the discussions were taking place. If any of this had happened in a judicial context we would not hear the end of it, because the Minister would rail and roar and shout against it.
The Minister is famous for his forthrightness. Most public servants in his previous books were wasters. That was the title of one of his books relating to the public service. The Minister is someone who has sought out areas where he has taken the view that wrong decisions were made with regard to public services. Now, we are pointing out to the Minister in a reasonable way on behalf of residents in the area that there are major unsustainable conflicts of interest, but he has simply decided to ignore them. Alternatives have been put forward by the Labour Party and other parties. They are before the House in the form of amendments. For someone who has gone on about justice in Ireland, I simply cannot understand the approach of the Minister.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute again to this debate. I have asked about this on several occasions. I have acknowledged that the appointment of Fingal County Council is imperfect. We have facilitated the process by abstaining to allow the provisions through. We have worked tirelessly in and out of committee with the Minister and his officials to try to improve this legislation. I thank him for acknowledging that.
I am keen for him to clearly outline in one of his contributions the additional resources that will be allocated to Fingal County Council to ensure that the council can hire in competent capable staff who will be able to deal with this in an efficient manner. What measures will be taken to ensure that there will be robust transparency? Following our intervention, the Minister agreed that external consultants would be brought in to ensure the work of the competent authority was being done right. Certainly, that is not something he had advocated beforehand. That is something we have achieved now. It is important that we get this right. It is important for the people who do not have confidence in this authority at the moment. It is important that their confidence in the authority can be built over a period.
It is timely to appoint a competent authority. What some Members do not seem to think about in any way is the economic growth of the region and the country. They do not seem to think about the €8.3 billion that our airport contributes on an annual basis, the 117,000 jobs that the airport supports directly and indirectly and the thousands of families who rely on the airport in Fingal. Some people think that if the airport grows it is somehow wrong. Why are we building a second runway if we do not want the airport to grow? Surely it is good for our economy if we bring in more tourists and have greater connectivity between our country, mainland Europe and the world. I would have thought that was better. However, we have to do that in a sustainable manner. We have to ensure a balanced approach. That is why I have worked on this since the beginning, at a time other Deputies were not present for Second or Committee Stages and were mute in recent years on this issue.
This has been going on since the previous Government was in office. The EU regulation has been in force since 2014 but there had been no advancement until now. The beauty about this is that the final adjudicator for any appeal brought will be An Bord Pleanála, a statutory independent body. I know from dealing with several residents in the area that they have confidence in that body to ensure fairness and a balanced approach and that their concerns will be addressed.
Should every decision go to An Bord Pleanála?
That is not what I am saying.
We are talking about the night flight restrictions. Deputy Ryan knows that.
I am talking about a difficulty.
Deputy Ryan knows that it will. That is all he is saying. He should let Deputy Troy speak.
The Deputies can talk afterwards.
Deputy Burton had 18 months as Tánaiste.
Someone is going to go to the board and the Labour Party Deputies know it.
If Deputy O'Brien wants to have a chat afterwards, there will be plenty of time.