That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Agreement Amending the Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United States of America on Air Transport Preclearance, done at Washington on 12th March, 2019, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 3rd April, 2019.
I thank the House for the opportunity to debate this very important motion on the terms of an agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United States of America on air transport preclearance. I am here on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. This latest agreement was approved by Government on 9 January 2019, signed on behalf of Ireland in Washington on 12 March 2019 by the Irish Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Dan Mulhall, and laid before the Oireachtas on 3 April last.
Deputies will appreciate how valuable the preclearance service is for Ireland. It allows people to move more easily between Ireland and the USA, enhancing the long and unique relationship between the two countries with 1.9 million passengers availing of the service in 2018. Dublin and Shannon are currently the only preclearance locations in Europe and two of only three locations outside Canada and the Caribbean. The other facility is in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Preclearance at Dublin Airport supports the development of the airport as a secondary hub in line with the objectives of the national aviation policy. Shannon Airport’s unique position as the only preclearance facility for general aviation in Europe is key to the development of niche business opportunities for the airport.
First and foremost, preclearance offers a unique service for passengers in providing them with essentially a domestic to domestic service. Airlines flying to the USA using Dublin and Shannon airports are permitted to fly to less congested and less expensive domestic terminals at US gateway airports. This gives them flexibility and provides a more extensive network of seamless onward connections. Second, the commercial and economic benefits of preclearance to Ireland are clear. Preclearance is a key, contributing factor to the growth of US-connecting traffic at Dublin and Shannon airports. While the importance of US companies to the economy is well established, it is also important to remember that the US is Ireland’s second largest export market, with almost 800 Irish companies operating there. Given the scale of this trading relationship the current ease of doing business, including the scale of connectivity and the availability of preclearance, is a significant trade and business facilitator.
From a tourism perspective, 28% of the 9 million visitors to Ireland last year were from North America and they accounted for 11% of our business visitors. Spending by North American tourists grew faster than from other markets in recent years helped by a strong dollar, increasing by 14% to reach €1.7 billion last year. More broadly, the expansion of Ireland’s international air linkages is a goal of Ireland’s overarching trade, tourism and investment strategy and this expansion is facilitated by the provision of US preclearance facilities at Irish airports.
Preclearance has been a huge success but due to the growth of passenger throughput there have been recurring concerns for a number of years about the capacity at the facilities with growing queues. Additional capacity and resources are now required to allow growth to continue and to ensure that all airlines seeking to have flights precleared at Dublin and Shannon could do so in a timely manner. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has been engaging with US officials since 2015 on the need to enhance and expand services and introduce flexibility to the preclearance service in Ireland. Separately, the US has for a number of years been working to expand the preclearance programme to other locations.
One of the preconditions set out for new preclearance facilities is that they can only be progressed if agreements are put in place to reimburse the US for staffing costs as well as providing the facilities. Domestically in US airports, a reimbursement framework has also been rolled out. Negotiations on amending the agreement began in April 2017 and involved the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Justice and Equality and Foreign Affairs and Trade, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Attorney General. Under the terms of the amended agreement, a baseline level of services will be borne by US Customs and Border Protection, CBP, with the costs associated with additional services being substantially paid for by the two airport authorities, under the terms of a commercial memorandum of understanding.
The agreement also provides for merchandise compliance agreements for goods being sold in the preclearance area and aboard precleared flights. A number of other operational issues including closer communication and co-operation between An Garda Síochána and CBP, and the layout of and new signage to be placed in the preclearance area were also agreed and are set out in an accompanying memorandum.
It is the view of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport that the deal reached is the best that can be achieved for airports and airlines both of which have indicated their willingness for some time to pay towards the cost of additional or enhanced services at preclearance. This will provide certainty around the resourcing by CBP of the preclearance facilities.