Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 18 Jul 1946

Vol. 32 No. 9

Air Navigation and Transport Bill, 1946—Second Stage.

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

The principal object of this Air Navigation and Transport Bill is to enable the Chicago Convention on international civil aviation to be implemented. That convention was opened for signature at the Chicago Conference held in 1944 and it will come into force when ratified by 26 States. On coming into force it will replace the Paris Convention of 1919, to which this country is a party, and the Havana Convention of 1928, to which many States on the other side of the Atlantic were parties. When the Chicago Convention comes into force, international co-operation in civil aviation will, for the first time, be expressed in one instrument.

At the recent assembly of the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organisation at Montreal it was recommended that early and simultaneous ratification by all the signatory States should be effective, and the 1st March next was set as a target for the purpose. The convention has already been ratified by eight States. It was signed by the Irish delegates to the Chicago Conference and was approved by the Oireachtas in April, 1945. It cannot, however, be ratified until the necessary legislation to give effect to its provisions has been enacted, and this Bill is designed for that purpose.

Current regulations for the conduct of civil aviation in this country are based on the Paris Convention of 1919. The Air Navigation and Transport Act of 1936 empowered the Government to apply the Paris Convention by Order. In the present Bill it is proposed to give that power to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, in so far as the implementation of the Chicago Convention is concerned. It is considered necessary to take that step, because civil aviation practices and standards which are the subject of these Orders and regulations are developing rapidly and are liable to constant changes and modifications; moreover, these Orders and regulations are concerned with air navigation practices and procedures and are of little concern to persons other than those immediately concerned with the operation of aircraft.

Provision is also contained in the Bill for the payment of expenses arising out of the Chicago Convention and our membership of the International Civil Aviation Organisation set up by the convention and for the charging of fees on licences and certificates issued under the regulations applying to the convention. The other portions of the Bill deal with Aer Rianta Teoranta, which is the company established by the Air Navigation and Transport Act of 1936, and its subsidiary company, Aer Lingus Teoranta.

Senators are, no doubt, aware that a bilateral agreement on air transport was concluded recently with the British Government. At the same time as that agreement was concluded between the two Governments, an agreement was entered into between Aer Rianta Teoranta and the British Overseas Airways Corporation. Under these two agreements Aer Lingus Teoranta will be established as a joint operating company. Its capital will be increased to £1,000,000, of which 60 per cent. will be held by Aer Rianta and 40 per cent. by British interests. Aer Rianta will have the right to nominate the majority of the directors, including the chairman. This joint company, Aer Lingus Teoranta, will enjoy the sole right to engage in air transport between this country and Great Britain and will also be given commercial rights of entry in Great Britain on routes from Shannon Airport or Dublin Airport and points on the Continent of Europe. The agreement with the British Government also provides for the granting of rights to the British to operate a transatlantic service through Shannon Airport. The British Government have undertaken to recommend to the Government of Newfoundland that the same rights be granted in Newfoundland to Aer Rianta on the projected transatlantic service between Ireland and North America. As was announced some time ago, Aer Rianta Teoranta will commence the operation of a transatlantic service as soon as the necessary aircraft and equipment have been secured.

It is still an open question whether the service will be operated by Aer Rianta or by a subsidiary company to be established by Aer Rianta. In either event the capital required for the project is estimated at about £750,000. Certain other developments by the company are also contemplated and the Bill proposes, therefore, an increase in the normal capital of Aer Rianta to £2,000,000. Moreover, it is anticipated that arising out of new services there will be necessity to continue subsidy arrangements for some years. The Bill accordingly provides for an increase in the aggregate amount of subsidy, which was limited by the 1926 Act to £500,000, to £750,000 and extends the period over which subsidy may be paid to five years from the date of the commencement of this Bill. The period over which subsidy will be payable would otherwise expire on the 25th May, 1947, in accordance with the provisions of the Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Act of 1942 which extended the period originally, fixed in the 1936 Act.

Certain changes in the constitution of Aer Rianta and Aer Lingus become necessary as a result of the developments which have taken place. The Bill provides accordingly for the deletion of nationality clauses in the memorandum of association of Aer Lingus Teoranta which are incompatible with the inter-company agreement between Aer Rianta and the B.O.A.C. The deletion or the amendment of clauses of that character is not provided for in the Companies Act of 1908 and legislative action is necessary.

The Bill also covers amendments to the 1936 Act providing for changes in the constitution of the board of directors of Aer Rianta and for an extension of the principal objects of the company as listed in the Second Schedule to the Principal Act. The substitution of a board of directors consisting of not more than seven or less than three directors will give a degree of flexibility not afforded by the board of five directors fixed by the Principal Act.

The extension of the objects of the company removes any doubts as to the legality of its participation in a project for the repair and overhaul of aircraft which is in contemplation.

These are the main purposes of the Bill. I do not think the Seanad will have any difficulty in approving of them. The production of the measure is a consequence of the two agreements to which I have referred, the multilateral agreement made at Chicago governing the regulation of air navigation and transport, and the bilateral agreement made with the British Government covering air transport services between this country and Great Britain and to countries beyond Great Britain. Unless the necessary implementing legislation is enacted, full effect cannot be given to these agreements.

This Bill deals with two main matters, as the Minister has stated. So far as the first one, the provisions arising out of the Chicago Convention, is concerned, we are all perfectly agreed that it is necessary and desirable that the movement in air navigation should be properly controlled and directed in the manner indicated by that convention. Without more modern arrangements it is quite clear that there would be chaos and that the agreements and arrangements put forward as far back as 1919, would in view of the progress of air transport since that time, become hopelessly and thoroughly out-moded and out-dated. Therefore, so far as that part of the Bill is concerned, in principle, there can be no possible doubt as to the attitude this House would adopt.

So far as the other part is concerned, the matter appears to fall under a slightly different heading. The results that we have seen in air transport and air operation here in recent years have caused some people to stop, to think and to wonder whether as a commercial proposition it is going to be a paying and economic proposition. Whether it is economic or not, it does appear to me that it is a necessary adjunct of our freedom and that it is a proposition into which we must enter regardless of whether we are going to get from it actual economic dividends commensurate with the amount of expenditure. Accepting that, it appears to me difficult to see how the matter can be dealt with other than on the broad lines indicated by the Minister in Part IV of the Bill.

I do not propose to-day to take the Minister or the House over what I think Senator Mrs. Concannon on the last occasion said was the pet subject of a mischievous boy, the subject of the dummy companies. This is not an example which I would take in order to delve into the reports of commissions, and so forth. I would suggest in regard to it that the Minister, before we come to the consideration of this Bill in Committee, should place in the Library copies of the memoranda of association of both Aer Rianta Teoranta and Aer Lingus Teoranta because, without those memoranda and articles, it is difficult to follow in exact detail certain of the arrangements indicated in the Bill and in the explanatory White Paper. If you are going to have an extension of air navigation in the manner projected, it is difficult to see in this case how it could be dealt with otherwise than by a State board of some kind or another. This is, therefore, a case which I segregate very distinctly from the case, say, of the Irish Tourist Board and it is more analogous to the case that was made by us in regard to Bord na Móna, that it was a case which had to be dealt with specially, on its own, as apart from the general question of State intervention in such matters.

The Bill is a short Bill. So far as it codifies the traffic machinery of air navigation, it is a Bill which is heartily acceptable. So far as it extends the funds that are going to be available for the promotion of air navigation within the State, it is a necessary adjunct of our freedom and a necessary development and one, therefore, which, for that reason if for no other, should be supported.

This Bill should not pass through this House without a word of congratulation being given to the Minister on the way in which he and the officers in his Department concluded what can be described as a highly satisfactory air agreement between this country and the British Government. This Bill is very welcome, as Senator Sweetman points out, in so far as it codifies the laws regulating the actual handling of air traffic. Senator Sweetman made the point that many people in this country consider with a certain amount of question, if not actual disquiet, whether or not there will be any monetary dividend in return for the amount of money that our Government are at the moment spending and propose to spend on aerial transport. Personally I feel that aerial transport is a form of transport which we as a country who want to progress must enter into. I have absolutely no doubt that not only are our existing air services an excellent advertisement for this country but that in time to come they will return a monetary dividend. I see no reason why there should be any grave disquiet as to the amount of money we are spending on air transport, as there is no reason why in future aerial transport should not be just as paying a proposition as surface transport whether by land or sea.

I join with Senator Crosbie in congratulating the Minister and his Department on doing so very much to put us not only in the air but on the map. It is little realised, I think, how much of the favourable position we are in to-day is due to the foresight shown many years ago, the fruits of which are being evidenced only now. I also join with Senator Sweetman in saying that this is an outstanding example of commercial enterprise which should not be judged from the immediate dividend-paying point of view. We must keep up with the times. We have kept up with the times, and I think we can congratulate ourselves on having a Minister and officials who are determined to keep us, not only up with the times, but a little ahead of the times. If they had not been ahead of the times we would not have Rineanna, and, if we had not Rineanna, we would not have Shannon airport, or the place we have to-day in commercial aviation.

So far as I can see, there is nothing contentious in the Bill. The Minister has indicated that certain of its provisions are necessary to implement the part we played in the Chicago Convention, but I want to ask the Minister, more for information than for anything else, because this is a State investment, a piece of valuable State property, and, may I also suggest, a source of State pride, whether it would be possible, even during the payment of the subsidies, for the accounts of the company in some modified form to be exposed to the public gaze periodically—at the end of a year or so—to assure the citizens generally that this company is progressive in more ways than one, that it is progressive to the stage at which, apart from being a piece of very valuable international property which is in our possession, it will also be self-supporting. I heartily congratulate the Minister and those of his staff responsible for permitting us to have such a Bill before us to-day.

Is maith liom aontú leis na Seanadóirí a labhair go dtí seo agus fáilte a chur roimh an mBille. Ba mhaith liom ag an am céanna aontú go speisialta leis an Seanadóir Summerfield sa méid adúirt sé mar chomhgháirdeachas leis an Aire féin ar chomh fad-bhreathnaitheach agus a bhí sé na blianta ó shoin agus a chur roimhe cúrsaí aer-thaistil a chur i gcóir agus a chíoradh chomh maith agus a rinne.

Téarmaí an Bhille ó thús go deir-eadh, dar liomsa, tá siad fíorionmholta. An chuid deiridh den Bhille féachann sé le cumhacht a thabhairt don Aire breis airgid a chur ar fáil leis na seirbhísí aer-loingseoir-eachta a fheabhsú. Bheireann sé an chumhacht dó breis airgid, mar adeirim, a chaitheamh ar sheirbhísí den tsórt seo. Is maith liom go bhfuil an chumhacht sin aige agus is maith liom freisin gur aontaigh an Seanadóir Sweetman gur sompla é seo de chomhlacht ar cheart don Stát dul ina bhun agus cuidiú leis chomh fada agus is gá é a dhéanamh.

Dob fhiú dhúinn, sílim, nuair bhionns muid ag caint ar na comhlachtaí Stáit, nó comhlachtaí semi-Stát, mar déarfeá, cuimhniú ar théarmaí an Bhunreachta. Mar tá soiléir faoi alt 45 den Bhunreacht, tugtar an chumhacht don Rialtas cuidiú le gnóthaí agus airgead a chur ar fáil le haghaidh comhlachtaí am ar bith is gá sin agus am ar bith nach féidir le fiontóirí príobháideacha an obair a dhéanamh nó nach mbíonn fiontóirí príobháideacha sásta an rachmas a sholáthar i gcoir na hoibre. Do réir mar thuigim an Bille, béidh cead ag daoine príobháideacha an rachmas a chur suas le haghaidh an chomhlachta, seo, Aer Rianta, ach, muran féidir nó mura mbeidh an gnáth-dhuine príobháideach sásta an t-airgead riachtanach a chur ar fáil, tá an chumhacht ag an Stát é a chur ar fáil.

Ní hé seo an uair le cur síos ar na comhlachtaí seo Stáit go generálta. Ach silim, an té a scrúdóchas scéal na gcomhlacht seo go bhfeicfe sé nach dtaínig an Rialtas isteach in aon ghnó ach de réir an ailt seo atá luaite agam den Bunreacht. Níor tháinig an Rialtas isteach ach an uair ba ghá dhóibh teacht isteach. Níor tháinig siad isteach chun comhlachtaí den tsórt seo a cur ar bun nó airgead a chur ar fáil ach an uair a raibh sé soiléir nach raibh fiontóirí príobháideacha sásta nó ábalta an rachmas a chur ar fáil.

Is maith liom chomh mór agus ataimid ar aon-intinn i dtaobh an Bhille seo. Bhí saghas faitíos orm go mbeadh an ghnáth-achrann ar bun mar gheall ar na haltanna sin a thugann cumhacht don Aire an t-airgead a chur ar fáil le haghaidh comhlachta agus tá mé thar a bheith sásta faoi chomh reasúnach agus a bhreathnaigh an Seanadóir Sweetman agus Seanadóirí eile ar an chuid sin den Bhille. Tá mé cinnte nach dteastaíonn aon ghriosú uaim ón Aire i dtaobh cúrsaí den tsórt seo, ach mar fhocal scuir, déarfaínn leis a mhisneach a bheith aige agus uair ar bith go bhfeicfear dó gur gá dó nó don Stát teacht isteach agus comhlacht Stáit a chur ar bun agus airgead an phobail a chur ar fáil le haghaidh a leithéid de chomhlacht, go ndéanfadh sé é. Ní gá imní a bheith air agus ní bheidh, dar liom, aiféala air.

Ag cur fáilte roimh an mBille seo dom, ba mhaith liom ná déanfaí dearmad ar an teangain náisiúnta nuair a bheidh an Bille seo ina dhlí—go mbeadh an Ghaeilge le feicsint agus le clos i ngnó aerloingseoireachta maidir le clódóireacha, in ainmneacha, ag seirbhísigh agus lucht freastail agus oifigigh. Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh Aer Rianta. Teoranta agus Aer Lingus Teoranta agus na daoine atá freagarthach i dtaobh riartha, cóirithe agus maisithe na dtithe san aer ag cuimhneamh ar a ndualgas um an scéal san. Is mór ar fad an tábhacht atá ag gabháil le nithe beaga mar sin, sé sin, go bhfeicfeadh agus go gcloisfeadh daoine as tíortha iasachta ár dteanga-na agus go gcruthófaí mar sin dóibh go bhfuil teanga ar leith againn in Éirinn.

Ba cheart go mbeimís ar léarscáil na dteangan náisiúnta fé, mar adúirt an Seanadóir Summerfield, atáimid ar an léarscáil maidir le aerloingseoireacht. Ba cheart dúinn a fhógairt leis na comharthaí sin, gan tamailt ná maoidheamh, gur tír agus náisiún fé leith sinn agus go bhfuilimid chomh tréithiúil maidir le náisúnachas leis na Beilgigh, nó Lochlannaigh, nó Francaigh, nó aon dream eile. Níl comhartha níos fearr chun an tréithiúlacht sin a thaispeáint ná radharc agus clos na Gaeilge agus ba cheart dúinn bheith cúramach mar gheall air, ionnas go mbeidh eolas, aithne agus fianaise ag lucht taistil ar an teangain sin atá againn.

Ba mhaith liom, leis, go ndéanfaí deimhniú de go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ag roinnt mhaith des na hoifigigh a bheidh ag plé leis an bpobal taistil, ag na ban-óstóirí sin go bhfuil clostrácht chomh poiblí sin ar a n-áilleacht agus ar a ndeiseacht. Ba chóir a bheith aireach i gcomnaí, fé mar tuigeadh a bheifí ar dtúis, go mbeidh Gaeilgeóirí sna postanna san agus do dtaispeánfaí go bhfuil an Ghaeilge acu. Is eol dúinn, faraoir, gur furaist lena lán daoine dearmad do dhéanamh ar riachtanacht na Gaeilge muna mbíonn coinníoll cinnte léi a caithfear a chomhlíonadh. Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh teagasc, ordú nó comhairle dá chur thart ón Aireacht go dtí forasa agus comhlachta go mbeidh airgead an phobail á chaitheamh acu á chur in iúl dóibh go bhfuil dualgaisí dá gcuid féin acu i leith na teangan náisiúnta. Is ionmholta Aer Lingus agus Aer Rianta Teo. Tugadh ainmneach Gaeilge ar na comhlachta san ar dtúis agus rinneadar roinnt mhaith maidir le foillsiú Gaeilge agus ba mhaith a dheimhniú go leanfaidís de sin agus go méadófaí ar an gcleachtadh—i Rinn Eanaigh, sna heitealláin agus i radharc agus i gclos lucht taistil ó oirthear agus iarthar a thiocfaidh inar dtreo. Do mholfainn nach go dtí Aer Rianta Teo. amháin a cuirfí an chomhairle sin. Ba chóir an teagasc nó an t-ordú céanna a thúirt do leithéid Bord na Móna, an Bord Cuartíochta agus Bord ar bith eile mar iad atá dá chothú le hairgead an Stáit. Ba chóir go mbeadh an dualgas i gcomhnaí— gan a gcleachtadh i leith Gaeilge a bheith contrártha leis an dúnghaois atá ag an Náisiún agus an Rialtas. Níos cheart don Roinn Airgeadais a sholáthraíonn an t-airgead ón bpobal dóibh gan an teagasc úd um an nGaeilge a thúirt dóibh agus ceist a chur go minic orthu cad é atá siad a dhéanamh mar gheall air.

Réitim ar fad leis an mBille agus molaim é, agus tá súil agam go mbeimid i ndon é d'achtú go luath.

This is a Bill on which I imagine there will be 100 per cent. agreement. It is a question as to whether we should, at this late stage, take up the time of the House by expressing our views at length and I do not wish to do so. I do not fully understand what the previous speaker said, but I do agree with him that small matters are important.

As a Senator who used Aer Lingus to a considerable extent, I should like to have this opportunity of saying that I have done so with a very considerable amount of pride, and with the feeling that, as compared with other companies, our Irish company has something that we have in no way to apologise for, but rather to be proud of. That is what we would all desire to have, but which we cannot always have in the case of everything Irish and, if we cannot say that, I do not think we should hesitate about saying it when we can do so with confidence. I am not an extensive air traveller but I travelled a considerable amount before the war. I do not know exactly how to put it, but I must say that travelling on various routes rightly or wrongly one gets a feeling of efficiency, and a certain degree of safety on some companies rather than on others. Whether that is actually the fact, or whether it is that one gets the impression that care is being taken, that foolish risks are not taken, or that there is really what one might best describe as efficiency, I cannot say. I have felt that Aer Lingus—I say it not simply as an Irishman and I would say it to the Minister if I thought the contrary— have a good way to go yet in the way of air development.

To those who are friendly but sceptical of the economic possibility of this enterprise I would say I do not see why, within a reasonable amount of time, Aer Lingus should not be a reasonably economic proposition. It may be too much to expect that we are going to pay off all the capital as an ordinary trade loan. I have always been against the idea that you can borrow money and pay it off in a few years without fleecing somebody. I do not want any such practice to develop in relation to air transport. I would be disappointed if, as far as its running is concerned, it cannot be run as a business proposition. I would rather that there was some loss than there was any degree of inefficiency, because a small State like this, in its contact with the world, cannot afford inefficiency. A big country like a big company can get away with minor efficiency. I believe that all sections of the House join in wishing the new venture every possible success. We are all anxious to contribute to that. I do not think the Minister ever had a Bill for which he will have more general support and general goodwill from every section of the community.

It is very gratifying to have this Bill welcomed in the manner which has been evinced. The Chicago Convention which will be ratified when this Bill has been passed is, as Senator Sweetman described it, a modernised form of the Paris Convention. It is, however, something more than that. Prior to the Chicago Convention air navigation was regulated internationally by two groups of States in accordance with two conventions, one by the Havana and one by the Paris Convention. The Chicago Convention replaces these two conventions and will be the basis on which the international law of air navigation will be built up. The custody of that law has been entrusted by the convention to an international council. At present there is a provisional international council, but when the convention has been ratified by the requisite number of States the provisional council will make way for the permanent council.

Senators were no doubt gratified to learn of the election of this country to the council at the recent Montreal Conference. I think we are entitled to regard the honour done to this country as a tribute to the progressive part we have played in the development of international air services. There will be no difficulty in having the memoranda of association of the companies placed in the library. I shall arrange to have that done immediately.

When the question of the possibility of a financial return upon the money invested in air transport is raised, it is necessary to divide that money into two parts. One part represents the investment of the State in air transport companies. The other part represents our investment in airports. I think there is no reason whatever why we should not anticipate a financial return upon the money invested in air transport companies. I have not pressed the companies to manage their business so as to produce a dividend at the present stage of their development. I thought it unwise to do so because I think, like Senator Douglas, that it is important that the companies should build up a reputation for reliability and efficiency rather than that they should manage their services with the aim only of producing a financial profit. These services are only developing now. It is not possible to procure equipment to enable them to be developed fully. Many technical problems have to be solved in relation to them. When these problems have been solved and the necessary equipment is freely available, I think there is no reason whatever why we should not confidently hope that the services will prove remunerative. For a long time we shall be engaged in the business of opening new services. A new service will require financial support for a period after its inauguration but with the established services becoming increasingly popular there is already available a sufficient volume of traffic to make their economic operation a practical possibility.

The money invested in airports must be regarded in a different category. It is true that revenue is derived from the operation of airports, partly through the subsidiary services associated with airports but mainly in consequence of the fees that have to be paid by the companies using these airports just as harbour dues are paid by shipping companies using harbours. I think it would be a bad policy at any time to attempt to fix the level of these fees at a point which would recover or go near recovering, the capital sums invested in these airports. I think we must regard airports as much in the same category as roads. The facilities for transport are provided because the public require them. The point at which landing fees should be fixed is rather a matter of acute controversy at the moment. It seems to me, apart altogether from the financial consequences of the decision made, that it is good policy to keep these fees reasonably low, certainly not out of line with the fees charged elsewhere, so as to facilitate the development of air traffic.

Where is the acute controversy? Is it internal or international?

International. The Air Transport Act of 1936 requires the companies to submit balance sheets, and profit and loss accounts which are in fact tabled under the provisions of the Act annually. I agree with the view expressed by Senators that the company should so conduct its business that there will be no doubt as to its nationality. I think it can be said that Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta have done so in the past. The same policy has been followed in connection with the operation of the airports. The companies have always endeavoured to recruit staffs with a competent knowledge of Irish but it will be appreciated that the main need is to recruit staffs with a high degree of technical competence. It is not always possible to get that technical competence associated with a knowledge of Irish. In the recruitment of the general staff, however, particularly those who must come in contact with the public, a knowledge of Irish is always sought. I feel sure that anybody who has been at Shannon Airport during its operation will have no reason to complain that the language of the nation has not been given full prominence there.

There is just one further point arising out of the observations of Senator Douglas—that it is not contemplated that any of the capital invested in the air companies will be repaid. It is all share capital and it is represented by the services and the equipment of the companies. Let us hope that each company will be, at some stage, able to build up funds which will exceed its operating costs and which will enable appropriations to be made to reserve and eventually pay a dividend on the investment.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 24th July.