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

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

I thank the House for facilitating us in concluding this Stage of the Bill today and I thank everyone for their contributions. They echo a large number of the problems that were expressed in the Dáil. Everybody is very keen to represent the views of residents, which I greatly appreciate. It is a pity to hear people making accusations against the Minister and saying that I am not listening to the views of residents. I presume they are not aware of the fact that I have received numerous delegations of residents. To suggest that we have not listened to them at a very early stage is just misleading. The Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, has also been involved in a great deal of dialogue, as have my officials. We have at all times taken its views very seriously. The entire purpose of this Bill is to use a balanced approach to reconcile the obvious difficulties we have to bring together the interests of keeping the airport running - it is a vital piece of infrastructure - as well as not making the lives of residents more uncomfortable. It is difficult to square, but we have made the best possible efforts. This Bill represents many years of hard work to that end.

To those who were critical of the delays I say again that those delays were not of the Government's making but were created elsewhere. They may have happened for good reason, but I understand the frustrations people had because of these delays and the uncertainty that has been brought into their lives. We all recognise the contribution Dublin Airport makes to the national economy and the greater Dublin area and the fact that all parties are keen to see the airport thrive in a measured and sustainable way. That is what I am trying to achieve.

The balanced approach process, which is international best practice and endorsed by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization and adopted by EU regulations, is being embedded into our own planning and development system. By doing so, we are establishing a consistent approach to the introduction of noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions associated with any development at Dublin Airport. The process is highly transparent and open. There is extensive information sharing and extensive stakeholder engagement and public consultation. All information consulted upon will be accompanied by a non-technical summary report which will allow any person who wishes to do so to participate in the process, to contribute and to challenge as he or she sees fit. There will also be continual monitoring of noise at Dublin Airport to ensure compliance with the measures and limitations that the noise regulator decides upon. It should be noted that the regulator has the necessary powers of enforcement. To my mind this is a fair Bill which takes on board the competing interests and rights of all stakeholders. It does not favour any one interested party over the other, it has strong transparency and public consultation and it has a strong appeals mechanism.

As I said in opening, this is complex legislation, but I hope that my statement today has brought Members some clarity around the process. In the time I have left, I will deal with some of the issues that have been raised. The main issue raised was the independence of Fingal County Council. I guarantee the House that I will deal with the rest of the issues on Committee Stage, when those who raised the issues today are here again. To reiterate, I totally and utterly reject the argument that there is a perceived conflict of interest from Fingal County Council because of the rate it receives from the DAA. Those who say the DAA pays commercial rates are correct, but I do not accept that this would somehow influence the council in its role as independent noise regulator. Any decision to be made by the council in this role will be evidence-based and fully in adherence with the requirements of the EU regulation. If it was anything other than this, it would clearly be susceptible to challenge under the appeals mechanism or by judicial review. Stakeholder engagement has been provided at every stage. Once Deputies have had a chance to examine fully each section of the Bill on Committee Stage, their concerns about any perceived conflict will be allayed.

Many people in this House and in the Lower House have second-guessed the Attorney General. The Office of the Attorney General, or the Attorney General himself, made a decision that the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, was not independent. The same office made a decision that Fingal was independent. We accepted the decision of the Attorney General in the case of the IAA with great reluctance because we were ready to press ahead. Similarly, when the Attorney General's office came to us with a finding on Fingal County Council that it was independent, we accepted that. Had I decided, as some members of this House wrongly want me to, that the Attorney General was wrong in the second case and foisted a noise regulator on the nation in spite of his advice, this House would rightly be criticising me. I would be told that I was taking a risk with a noise regulator that I had been advised was subject to legal challenge. That is not a decision I was likely to take, nor is it one I am going to take. Senator Mullen, as a lawyer, will understand that. If the Attorney General advises me on one thing and I take his or her advice, and then he advises me on another similar matter-----

Since the Minister referenced me-----

I will not be subject to criticism unless I have to.

-----I want to offer some nuance to that.

The Minister, without interruption.

I have to take the advice that Fingal County Council is independent. If people in this House want to say that they know better, they are perfectly entitled to say so.

Many a person is independent but might lack the perception of it.

If I reject the advice of the Attorney General, however, I am asking for a legal challenge and for a political charge that I am-----

That is not true. The Minister is only looking for a legal challenge if he appoints someone whom the Attorney General says is not independent.

The Minister, without interruption, please.

I respect the view of Senator Mullen. He is a lawyer, albeit a very junior one. Indeed, he is somewhat junior to the Attorney General. However, he is perfectly entitled to come into this House and say that he knows better, as is anybody else.

That is not what I am saying.

I am not in a position to come to this House and say that I would prefer to take Senator Mullen's advice rather than that of the Attorney General.

I am not practising at the moment-----

I apologise for interrupting the Minister again. We have two minutes left. Nobody in this Chamber, with the exception of the Minister, should be speaking.

I thank the Acting Chair. To be clear, once a regulatory decision is made by the noise regulator, that is not the end of the process. Some Senators were under the impression that it was. As mentioned, any regulatory decision is subject to appeal. Apart from that course of action, however, the noise regulator has a strong role to play in the continued monitoring of the noise situation at the airport. The regulator will not only monitor compliance with noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions but will also examine their continued effectiveness. In this regard, the council has the ability to bring forward the five-year assessment process if it sees fit. The noise regulator has the power to enforce a regulatory decision and will work closely with the planning authority in the enforcement of planning conditions.

I also wish to respond to pleas for further engagements. Senator Reilly made a compelling case that perhaps there should be further engagements, and I am willing to ask my officials, before it is too late, to meet Senators Reilly and Craughwell and others who want to engage further.

Senator Clifford-Lee was extraordinarily critical of my attitude to the residents. She said that I was treating locals with contempt. I remind her that I met the Portmarnock residents' association and Senator Clifford-Lee at her request in 2016.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 9 April 2019.