The purpose of this Bill is to give legal effect to a landmark intergovernmental agreement reached last November between Ireland and the United States of America on air transport preclearance. Air transport preclearance means passengers of US-bound flights from Ireland can be fully cleared for entry to the United States in respect of all necessary US controls and checks, including US immigration, customs, agriculture and security checks, prior to departure. This will allow aircraft to land at an extended range of US airports and will facilitate easy onward connectivity to all points within the United States. This is a significant development for Irish aviation. As well as improving the passenger experience for those travelling to the US, preclearance should over time contribute significantly to growth in travel to the US and to the growth of new business for Irish airports as airlines take advantage of unique opportunities arising from access to a wider range of airports in the US. Preclearance for commercial aircraft is due to commence at Shannon on 29 July next and for private aircraft there in September. Preclearance is due to be introduced at Dublin Airport when terminal 2 opens next year.
It is understood the US authorities have no plans to introduce similar facilities elsewhere in Europe. This provides Irish airports with a unique marketing opportunity in attracting airlines and creating new business in the key transatlantic aviation market. Under this legislation, and no other, US preclearance officers in Ireland will be empowered to carry out their duties in dealing with requests for entry into the United States. In other words, the only powers to be exercised by preclearance officers at Dublin and Shannon airports will derive from this legislation only and will only be exercisable within clearly defined preclearance areas. Other powers assigned to preclearance officers in the United States are derived from US law but of course these are not exercisable in Ireland in the performance of preclearance duties.
The preclearance agreement with the US, on which this legislation is based, has been drafted in close co-operation with the Office of the Attorney General to ensure it is consistent with the Irish Constitution. Accordingly, the laws of Ireland, and of no other country, will apply at all times in the preclearance facility and the various preclearance areas and the only powers that can be exercised by a preclearance officer are those created by Oireachtas na hÉireann under this legislation.
The transatlantic aviation market is of enormous strategic, economic and cultural importance to Ireland but it has to be recognised that the ongoing global recession and high aviation fuel costs are having a seriously negative impact on the industry. Consumer demand for air travel has fallen sharply and transatlantic traffic is being hit particularly hard this year. The challenge will be to ensure that Irish aviation is well positioned to take advantage of the economic recovery when it comes. It is in this context that the full potential of preclearance can be realised and that includes the promotion of Irish airports as hubs for in-transit preclearance. Already there have been a number of outside expressions of interest in preclearance. In particular, British Airways has announced that it is considering a business class only service from London City Airport to the US with a stopover at Shannon, precisely for the purpose of taking advantage of the preclearance services there. Preclearance is also being introduced at Shannon for private US bound aircraft from September next. In line with the interest shown by commercial aviation, we can expect an increase in private and business aircraft routing through Shannon to take advantage of preclearance. All additional aircraft routing through Shannon will have a positive commercial impact on the airport and the surrounding region.
Preclearance is the process whereby all inspection and clearance requirements under US laws for travellers arriving into the US are carried out at the departing airport. Such passengers arriving at US airports are then processed without further official contact. On arrival at the US airport they will have a status similar to that of passengers arriving from another US airport. For passengers the benefits are that they are processed through all US entry procedures before they travel, knowing that when they arrive at their destination they will have an uninterrupted passage through the US airport. In addition, passengers will be able to travel onward to other US destinations, while remaining airside thereby obviating the need for further security and baggage checks. The airport authority will be able to market its airport as a hub for US bound flights having these preclearance advantages. This service is not on offer to any other European county.
Under this legislation preclearance officers of the US customs and border protection service will be authorised to carry out certain functions at designated preclearance areas of Irish airports in respect of passengers and aircraft bound for the US that would otherwise be carried out on arrival in the US. The functions of preclearance officers in Ireland shall include the inspection of individuals and their goods and aircraft, the searching of individuals, with the assistance of a member of the Garda Síochána in certain circumstances, and the holding of individuals, where the circumstances warrant it, pending the arrival of a member of the Garda Síochána who would then take charge. Where, during the course of an inspection, a preclearance officer discovers an item the possession of which constitutes an offence under Irish law the officer would seek the assistance of an Irish law enforcement officer.
If a situation arises where goods need to be seized, they shall be seized by an Irish law enforcement officer. The Bill makes provision for a right of appeal in situations where goods have been seized. The necessary preclearance facilities will be provided by the airport authority and the costs recovered from the participating airlines through a passenger charge. When negotiating the agreement, both sides saw the merit in not including in the agreement the details of operational procedures for the practical implementation of preclearance on the ground. It was decided these would be negotiated separately between the parties and agreed before implementing preclearance.
Section 1 of the Bill provides for the interpretation of the Act. Section 2 enables the Minister to make regulations designating preclearance areas at the airports. In such areas US preclearance officers would be able to undertake necessary procedures to grant preclearance to passengers seeking entry to the US and necessary security safeguards would be implemented. The airport authority, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Revenue Commissioners would be consulted before the making of such regulations.
Section 3 outlines the duties and responsibilities of travellers in the preclearance area such as an obligation to provide an accurate written declaration of all goods and complying with the lawful requirements of an Irish law enforcement officer or a preclearance officer. Failure to adhere to such obligations constitutes an offence.
Section 4 provides the traveller with a right to withdraw from the preclearance area at any time subject to certain exceptions relating to threatening or obstructive behaviour by the traveller or where a person is suspected of committing an offence under Irish law. Section 5 outlines the functions of preclearance officers when processing applications for preclearance, including powers to search a traveller and his goods with his consent and to search a person and his goods in the preclearance area without warrant when suspected of posing an immediate threat. Preclearance officers may also detain a person or private aircraft where an offence is suspected and forthwith deliver that person or private aircraft into the custody of an Irish law enforcement officer to be dealt with in accordance with Irish law.
Subject to subsection 5(4), preclearance officers may also detain goods, which are not accurately declared by a traveller and forthwith deliver them to an Irish law enforcement officer for the purposes of sections 8 to 10 of the Bill, which deal with a special procedure for seizure and detention of goods to be administered by the Revenue Commissioners. Under section 5(5) preclearance officers, as a condition for the grant of preclearance, may require the traveller to pay a sum of money that would be payable by that traveller on postclearance in respect of any particular goods or to surrender the goods.
Section 6 sets out the functions of Irish law enforcement officers in the preclearance area where a person is suspected of making a false declaration of goods or is in possession of goods that are controlled or prohibited in the State or if the person is suspected of otherwise posing a threat to persons in the preclearance area. An Irish law enforcement officer may search the person without warrant and detain the person for such time as is reasonably necessary for carrying out the search subject to certain provisions. An Irish law enforcement officer may examine, seize or detain anything found in the course of the search that might be required as evidence in a prosecution. Section 6(6) provides that the powers granted under section 6 shall not prejudice other powers exercised by Irish law enforcement officers to search, seize or detain any goods.
Section 7 restricts entry into the preclearance area to preclearance officers, travellers and other authorised personnel. It also sets out the powers of preclearance officers and Irish law enforcement officers in the interest of security and the proper functioning of the preclearance area. It also empowers those officers to request a person to leave the preclearance area in certain circumstances. A person who contravenes these provisions shall be guilty of an offence.
Sections 8 to 10, inclusive, provide for the seizure of goods not declared or falsely declared, procedures for making a claim to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of goods seized and procedures to be followed by the Revenue Commissioners in the event of the seizure of goods and the processing of claims by the Revenue Commissioners.
Section 11 provides that the responsibility for costs incurred in respect of travellers refused preclearance are to be borne by the air carrier. The air carrier may recoup the costs from the traveller. Section 12 clarifies the status of in-transit preclearance travellers under the Aliens Act 1935 and the Immigration Act 2004.
Section 13 provides for the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States who are assigned to carry out preclearance functions in the State under this Act. In line with article IV(4) of the agreement, section 13(6) enables any person to sue the Minister, who would be precluded from suing the US authorities because of the immunity granted under this section.
Section 14 empowers an airport authority to charge fees to air carriers availing of preclearance. Section 15 is a standard provision relating to the power of the Minister to incur expenses in the administration of the Act.
Section 16 gives the Minister the power to make general regulations as necessary to give effect to the Act and agreement and make regulations to ensure the integrity, security and proper functioning of preclearance areas. Sections 17 and 18 provide for the offences and penalties to be applied under the Act.
Sections 19 to 21, inclusive, provide for the repeal of the Air Navigation and Transport (Preinspection) Act 1986, a minor amendment to the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and for the short title and commencement of the Act.
The Bill does not have significant financial or staffing implications for the Exchequer.
The potential for job creation and long-term economic benefits for Ireland contained in this Bill are obvious. preclearance will present the industry with an opportunity to grow business in such a key international gateway for the country. While the immediate challenge will be to weather the current recession, I firmly believe that all international airlines, including Aer Lingus, will fully embrace this unique opportunity to grow their business over the long term. This is an important development for our State airports, particularly Shannon Airport where preclearance will be introduced a full year ahead of Dublin. I urge the airport authorities to fully utilise this unique marketing advantage.
Good international air access is a key factor in mitigating the impact of Ireland's peripheral location, in particular that of the west of Ireland. This is even more important now in times of recession. Growth in air transport links has played a significant part in our economic success since the mid-1990s. I firmly believe that this initiative will help ensure that air transport plays an even greater role in our economic recovery in the future. I commend the Bill to the House.