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

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

I thank the House for the opportunity to introduce the Bill. This Bill was brought before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport in October 2018 for pre-legislative scrutiny, where we had a robust and constructive debate. The Bill was published in November 2018 and passed Second Stage in the Dáil in December. It then passed through Committee Stage in the Dáil in January and Report and Final Stages between February and March this year. At all Stages, there has been constructive debate. Deputies on all sides made valuable contributions and, as far as possible, I have worked to accommodate the amendments tabled from the beginning of the process. I have accepted four Opposition amendments and I tabled a further 14 amendments which were either agreed with Deputies in advance or simply served to refine the wording of the Opposition amendments. While there have been differences of opinion, the spirit of the engagement has been largely collaborative and I believe the current version of the Bill is greatly improved on the version first published.

The main purpose of the Bill is to implement European Union Regulation 598/2014, which came into effect in June 2016. This regulation sets out the rules and procedures regarding the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at EU airports. As the regulation only applies to major EU international airports, based on traffic levels in Ireland, it only applies to Dublin Airport. That is highly unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. This Bill provides, for the first time, that noise generated by aircraft activity at the airport, including inbound and outbound flights, will be subject to extensive, detailed assessment, ongoing monitoring and regular review. I propose to raise the bar for what the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, as the operator of Dublin Airport, is required to do to comply with noise rules. This Bill is fundamentally about ensuring the sustainable development of the airport, which balances the ambitions of the DAA, the needs of business and tourism interests and the legitimate rights of local residents.

As an island economy, we are heavily dependent on air connectivity and there is no doubt that the threat of Brexit on the horizon has brought that dependency into sharp relief. At the same time, no reasonable Government can envisage unfettered development on pure economic interest grounds. There have to be rules and regulations to ensure that all developments are justified, proportionate, appropriate and respectful of a broader range of criteria than simply economics. This Bill provides for that broader perspective. It respects existing planning and development and environmental laws and is underpinned by binding EU regulations and directives on environmental and aircraft noise. It ensures that every time a planning application at Dublin Airport is considered, the aircraft noise implications will also be considered.

Under Regulation 598, member states must designate a competent authority as the independent noise regulator, with responsibility for assessing noise, setting restrictions if required and monitoring and enforcing compliance. In Ireland's case, Fingal County Council is to be designated as the independent noise regulator for Dublin Airport. This is what the Government has decided and the Bill as passed in the Dáil provides for that. This designation has been the subject of extensive debate in the Dáil, and during pre-legislative scrutiny. Opposition Deputies have expressed concern that Fingal County Council is conflicted, largely because it receives rates from the airport authority, and there were also concerns that it did not have the required noise expertise. I have addressed both of these issues head-on during the Dáil debate, and I have also addressed them separately in parliamentary questions over recent months. I do not believe there is substance in either of these points.

Fingal County Council does.

The issue of a potential conflict of interest has been considered by the Office of the Attorney General. There are no legal grounds for it. The fact that Fingal County Council raises some of its revenue income from commercial rates, and the fact that some of its rates income comes from the DAA, does not represent a conflict of interest in the context of the council being responsible for the regulation of aircraft noise at the airport.

On the matter of resourcing and expertise, the council will establish a new, well-resourced, and dedicated aircraft noise regulation office within the executive branch, which will include the appropriate noise expertise. The office will be headed at a senior level by a director of services, with all of the appropriate arrangements to ensure decisions are taken fully in accordance with the law. By all reasonable, verifiable measures, there is a compelling case in favour of Fingal County Council. I stand over the decision of the Government and the advice which underpins it. It has been subject to extensive policy deliberation and legal scrutiny. It is a robust and sound proposal.

Any decision to be made by the council, in this role as noise regulator, will be evidence-based and will be fully in adherence with the requirements of national law and the EU regulation. If it is anything other than this, then it will clearly be susceptible to challenge under the appeals process and-or judicial review. That said, I have responded to concerns by agreeing to new provisions, passed in the Dáil, for a regular periodic review of the performance of the noise regulator with regard to its functions under this Bill. This review will take place within seven years of enactment, once a full cycle of the entire regulatory process, including any appeal, has been completed. Furthermore, the noise regulator will be required to produce an annual report, detailing the work it has undertaken throughout the year and setting out its work programme for the following year. This will be separate from, and in addition to, the annual report produced by Fingal County Council. These new provisions were specifically included to address concerns raised by opposition Deputies in the Dáil.

I would like to take Senators through some of the finer detail of the Bill. At least once every five years, the noise regulator will undertake an assessment of the noise situation at the airport. This will include taking into account future developments planned at the airport. Where the noise regulator identifies a noise problem on foot of that assessment, it will adopt the so-called balanced approach. The balanced approach is set out in the EU regulation and allows the regulator to decide what steps need to be taken by the airport authority to offset the impact of the noise. It might mean more home insulation or adjustments to flight paths or it might require physical works to act as sound barriers. That will be a matter for the regulator following its detailed assessment. The balanced approach entails undertaking an analysis of the various measures available to reduce the level of identified noise through the exploration of four principle elements: noise reduction at source; land-use planning and management; noise abatement operational procedures; and operating restrictions as a last resort. This process will be open and transparent. There will be public consultation, and at each stage, the regulator will be required to publish information and evidence and keep all stakeholders abreast of developments. Open consultation is an important aspect of the EU regulation which has been carried through to the Bill. The draft decision will be accompanied by a report detailing how the decision was reached, which will include a non-technical summary. This will ensure any individual will be in a position to input into the process and that the consultation will not be limited to those with technical expertise.

This comprehensive assessment of noise by the regulator will involve consideration of the health impact of noise levels on local residents. There was extensive debate on this issue during the Dáil debates on Committee and Report Stages. Some Deputies took the view that the Bill did not sufficiently reflect the importance of human health in the overall assessment of noise at the airport. A number of amendments were put forward which they believed would address the perceived gap. However, as I tried to explain during the debate, much of the commentary on the lack of reference to health in the Bill was based on a misreading of the Bill and of the underlying EU regulations and directives. The Bill must be read in tandem with EU Regulation 598 and EU Directive 2002/49/EC, the environmental noise directive, because the noise regulator must have regard to all three of these in carrying out its regulatory assessment of noise.

In doing so, the regulator will have regard to the impact of aircraft noise on human health. I tabled two amendments on Report Stage in the Dáil to highlight and make it more explicit that health aspects are to be considered by the noise regulator. Two further amendments, however, which were passed in the Dáil and which relate to the evaluation of health impacts on local residents, will need to be undone because they make the Bill legally unsound. I will explain my rationale in greater detail on Committee Stage for seeking to remove these provisions.

The Bill also provides that where the airport authority applies to the planning authority to review and amend any current planning permissions, any such application will also require the input of the noise regulator before the planning authority makes a final decision. This includes the current planning permission for the new runway, which has operating restrictions attached to it that reduce the number of allowable night-time flights. It is well documented that the DAA views these operating restrictions as overly restrictive. The Bill does not pre-empt any decisions that may be made by the noise regulator on the appropriateness of those restrictions if it has cause to review them. It simply allows the noise regulator to examine all noise mitigation measures available, in line with the balanced approach, in order to mitigate any noise problem that may arise from the operation of the second runway. Once it examines any application to review the operating restrictions attached to the second runway project if such an application is made, the noise regulator may determine that no change to the operating restrictions is needed, or decide on more onerous restrictions, or decide on an entirely new set of noise abatement measures. That will be a matter for the new regulator.

Another aspect of Regulation 598/2014 is the requirement to designate an appeals body to provide for an appeals mechanism against decisions of the noise regulator. To provide for alignment with the Planning and Development Act, the Bill designates An Bord Pleanála as the independent appeals body. Where an appeal against a regulatory noise decision is made to the board, it will have 18 weeks to make a decision. There is also provision for the board to undertake a 14-week public consultation process where it is of the view that there are alternative noise mitigation measures or operating restrictions other than those proposed by the noise regulator. An appeal against a planning decision can also be made to An Bord Pleanála. In the circumstances where a planning decision into which the noise regulator has input is appealed to the board, once again the board will have the power to decide on the most appropriate noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions, if any, that are to be introduced at Dublin Airport. The Bill, therefore, sets out a process for a noise regulation regime that will allow for full stakeholder engagement, along with an independent appeals process which will provide certainty to stakeholders. In essence, it sets out a structured approach to assessing and addressing aircraft noise at Dublin Airport with the objective of facilitating airport development and expansion in a way that minimises, as far as practicable, the noise impact of that expansion.

The Bill outlines monitoring and enforcement powers, another area in which important changes were made in the Dáil to address concerns raised by Deputies. Provision has been made to allow any person to request the noise regulator to review the effectiveness of noise mitigation measures, which will allow for a system where local residents, businesses and schools with genuine complaints have somewhere to go. On foot of a commitment I made in the Dáil, I will table a further amendment on Committee Stage to make it clear that the noise regulator must respond in writing to any request made to it to review the effectiveness of measures. There will also be an onus on the airport authority to ensure it adheres to any decision of the noise regulator and that any measures are implemented effectively. The airport authority will be required to produce an annual compliance report, to include a non-technical summary, which will be published by the regulator. The regulator will monitor compliance and has the power to direct the airport authority and airport users, as necessary, to comply with any noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions, with recourse to the High Court for non-compliance. This is the most effective method to ensure compliance.

The Bill also provides for other consequential amendments to the Planning and Development Act, one of which is the declassification of development at Dublin Airport as strategic infrastructure development for the purposes of planning applications. This measure will mean that an application for planning permission for development at Dublin Airport will revert to being processed in the same way as most planning applications, that is, any application will be made to Fingal County Council in the first instance, with provision for appeal to the board against its decision. This arrangement will facilitate the involvement of the noise regulator in the processing of a planning application that has a noise dimension, with a direct appeal to any such decision to be made to An Bord Pleanála.

I will table a small number of further amendments on Committee Stage which will include commitments that I made during the Bill's passage through the Dáil. Ultimately, Regulation 598/2014 is intended to ensure that major European airports are developed in a sustainable manner and are subject to oversight and scrutiny in respect of planning, environmental laws and noise levels. The Bill will ensure that Ireland has an airport noise regulatory regime that is compliant with EU law and which meets international best practice. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister for appearing in the House to present the legislation. We will reluctantly support the Bill to aid the development of the airport, although we share the concerns of many of the residents around the airport and in wider Fingal in respect of the manner in which the Government has approached the establishment of what it claims is an independent regulator. Ireland will become one of only three countries in the EU which, when transposing the legislation, have given the local authority the responsibilty. The Minister pointed out that the airport authority is a large rate payer but argued that there will not be a conflict of interest. It is the definition of a conflict of interest, however, that the people who pay the regulator a sizeable portion of their annual budget would be monitored by the same organisation. As we know, the Irish Aviation Authority was originally intended to be the designated body but that was proven to be unlawful.

While all the arguments on the importance of the airport have been made well, we will again table amendments that we tabled in the Dáil and expand on them. Since 2016, we have spoken about the issue of the noise regulator and which body it should be. We have expressed our concerns time and again that the power will rest with the local authority, and we are concerned that it is being made such a large part of the local authority's responsibilities, given that there will be a director of services. Having considered the other options, we believe such a role is unnecessary and will not provide the necessary balance for the independence that we, or anyone else, would require. The requirement to have recourse to An Bord Pleanála is specifically mentioned in the Bill as a result of amendments we tabled.

We would like to hear again the Minister's views on the ability of people to access funding, on how much will be made available for those directly affected or whose properties may have been directly affected, on the target, which will almost double the amount of air traffic approaching Dublin Airport, on the flight path adjustments and on the capacity of the new authority to impose the changes. In light of the fact that once the runway is built, the flight path adjustments will be quite limited, I wonder what scope there will realistically be for the regulator to do anything in that regard. When we table those amendments, we hope the Minister will reconsider them in order that we can make more progress on shaping the Bill. As I stated, we are not happy with the alleged independence, which is the kernel of the issue. While an ability to appeal decisions surrounding the legislation is important, that the referee will be paid by the airport leads us to be concerned that the legislation does not contain even the cover of independence.

The reason it is being proposed the Irish Airport Authority be designated is airport authorities are being and have been used in other jurisdictions as the mechanism to ensure independence, but there is too much scope for people to be justifiably concerned in Fingal County Council being chosen. Dublin Airport employs 20,000 people and there are a further 114,000 indirect jobs linked with it. We would like to see that number expanded. We would like to see more jobs being created, but the kernel of our concern about this necessary infrastructure is the ability of citizens to make sure their rights will be protected by a fair referee.

The Minister has accepted amendments we have brought forward. Please bear in mind that this is a slow process. Planning permission to build the second runway was granted in 2007. Nearly 12 years later the issue of noise is still being considered in the context of why it cannot be done by the Irish Aviation Authority. If it is not legally sound, surely there must be somebody else available. The Fingal County Council issue is the source of the gravest concern for citizens who believe they will not be listened to because of the fact that there is so much money involved. That is the only issue. Other than the fact that the airport is located in Fingal, no one would have a problem because then we would be able to say there was no direct tie or link between the two bodies, but, ultimately, there is. It has taken 12 years to get where we are, even though, as I said, planning permission for the second runway was granted in 2007 and the directive was issued in 2014. There have been huge arguments and we continue to argue about the need for legislation. The Government stated it was not necessary, but that has proved not to be the case. Now we are dragging our heels again. It is taking quite some time to deal with it, but we will table the amendments mentioned. As I said, we have engaged with the residents and, as a party, listened to their concerns and included them in amendments where it is legally possible to do so. We have listened to the people who will be directly affected by noise and who will need to have their homes insulated. For the people who need to have their properties and quality of life protected, the issues need to be expanded on further. We must ensure Fingal County Council has the capacity to address them not just for the residents in its area but also for those not in its area but who will be directly affected.

We will bring forward further amendments to the Bill which we reluctantly support because of the common good elements, given the necessity for this piece of infrastructure, as the Minister pointed out, to ensure the connectivity of Ireland to the world and in the light of Brexit and of all of the other issues we need to face. Expanding the economy and having an airport like Dublin which has the ability to service the needs of a growing economy should not be at the cost and expense of the citizens living around it.

I thank the Minister's officials for taking the time to contact me yesterday following a telephone call about the Bill and for all of the time they were willing to spend discussing the issues involved. I also thank the Minister for making himself available today to engage in a discussion prior to the debate. It is certainly reassuring that both he and his officials are willing to listen and engage.

I am delighted to see in the presentation made by the Minister that economic factors will not be the sole drivers of development at Dublin Airport. That aspect of the Bill is commendable and it is reassuring because so much can be driven against people's wishes purely on an economic basis.

I know from my engagement with the Minister today that he has engaged with residents. However, there is a small cohort in St. Margaret's whom I believe need further engagement with him or his officials. I met four of them in the early hours of yesterday morning when I went to the area to experience the noise levels for myself. There is no doubt that the noise levels in aircraft taking off every five minutes or thereabouts are hard to take. We were in the sittingroom of a newly built house which was well insulated, with PVC windows, when a large jet took off and one could not hear anybody else speak. Therefore, noise is a serious problem.

Why build there then?

The residents pointed out that there was an option to have their properties bought to remove them from the flight path. I believe the deal is the valuation of the property plus 30% which, on the face of it, is generous, but two issues remain to be teased out. Who will value the property? Will the property valued as one that is on the flight path or as one that would be worth X amount if it were located somewhere else, with 30% being added?

The Minister will be happy to know that the residents whom I met were satisfied that the amendment brought forward in the Dáil to restrict the decibel count to 45 by day and 40 by night, on average, would be unworkable. They were satisfied that the limits would simply not work and were willing to agree to negotiate on a change. They were talking of a figure of 65 decibels by day being stipulated, but wanted the figure of 40 decibels by night, on average, to be retained. During my visit to the area we looked at some readings and, I think, the highest I saw was 88.7 decibels.

The next issue I want to discuss is that of the regulator. As my colleague pointed out, the IAA was taken out of the equation because of a legal difficulty. The residents have a difficulty in understanding how a local authority that annually collects €29 million in rates could be regarded as independent when it comes to having the noise regulator on its staff. The residents need further reassurance in that regard. I know from speaking to the Minister today that many of the issues surrounding noise levels are already covered in European Union directives, but the position needs to be explained to residents in the area. I take the opportunity to ask the Minister whether he is willing to arrange for his officials to meet the specific group of residents in St. Margaret's whom I met to reassure them in that regard.

Night flights seem to be a source of particular concern. The residents told me some harrowing stories about the difficulties encountered in maintaining sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation is a problem and we must consider the matter. I have also heard there are difficulties in local schools in not being able to keep windows open during the day. We have got to do something about that issue as we simply cannot have people living in sealed boxes.

It is great that An Bord Pleanála has an appeals mechanism. I remember being a member of a residents' association in the west. As the chairman wanted to appeal everything, we spent our lives paying solicitors. That is not the way to move forward. I would much prefer to see engagement with local people and local representatives in order to have a very clear path painted for them with respect to appeals mechanisms.

The point was made to me that when the second runway was constructed, the flight path would be over a large housing estate. As I did not view the area, I cannot be 100% certain on the claim made, but if there will a large housing estate on the flight path, will it cause serious problems? Are people expected to live their lives in sealed boxes?

The residents in the area I visited maintained that a roundabout in it had to be resurfaced on a regular basis because of the damaged caused by pollution pumped on top of it from aircraft taking off. In other words, they had to contend with the surface of the roundabout becoming skiddy every couple of months.

The residents are on the Minister's side with respect to the amendment put down in the Dáil, which limits the airport to the point where it could probably not operate at all, but they want to be in the discussion nevertheless. I wonder if we could organise something along those lines, even at this late stage, in order to facilitate the passage of this Bill. Everybody accepts that the passage of this Bill is important for the development of the airport.

I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to let me know when I have one minute left. I welcome the Minister and I welcome the Bill. I thank Senator O'Mahony for the opportunity to take the Bill on behalf of Fine Gael and the Government. He is tied up in the sports committee. There is concern in the constituency of Dublin Fingal about this, in St. Margaret's and Portmarnock. The people of Ireland and Fingal need a regulator but we also need our airport as it is critical to the economic future of Ireland and Fingal. I join with Senator Craughwell in hoping the Minister can get his officials to meet community groups to address their concerns.

The Bill is a consequence of EU Regulation No. 598/2014 and its transposition into Irish legislation. It proposes the appointment of Fingal County Council as regulator. In the short time I have open to me, I cannot go through all the notes I have but there was concern within the council itself as to whether it was suitable as an authority for noise regulation. The council wrote a letter and all the issues, including that of independence, were fully examined and worked through using legal advice. Issues of competencies and resources were also addressed at the time and they were all examined, discussed and addressed before bringing the recommendation of Fingal County Council to Government in January 2018.

In October 2018, Fingal County Council issued a statement clarifying that, while it did previously express concerns about taking the role, having worked with the Department those concerns had been satisfactorily addressed. Fingal County Council added that it had a track record of performing the role of competent authority in areas such as planning and environment and does it in an independent and transparent way. Fingal is best placed for the role of noise regulator as it has existing responsibility for environmental regulation and for planning, as stated. Furthermore, it has experience of managing large and effective public consultations and there is no other suitable body that combines all the attributes of Fingal County Council in this respect.

I remind Senator Craughwell that Fingal County Council is elected by the people of Fingal. Perhaps the airport will have concerns about a conflict of interest there. The Senator suggests that it is conflicted because its rates are collected by Fingal but is he suggesting that the Medical Council is conflicted because all its fees are paid for by doctors, even though it has a lay majority?

The previous speaker acknowledged that the amendment put down by Deputy Clare Daly would have severe consequences for jobs at Dublin Airport and the surrounding communities. The World Health Organization guidelines that were inserted in the Airport Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018 are just that - guidelines. I understand they have not been fully assessed by Europe yet and are not in operation at any international airport in Europe, or any other airport in the world to my knowledge. According to Airports Council International, ACI, the WHO guidelines will not be attained or reached by infrastructural changes at the top 20 European airports. The WHO recognises that the limited evidence base on the health effects of environmental noise interventions is thinly spread. I fully agree with this finding and strongly support the WHO’s call for further research on the effectiveness of interventions. The foreword to the WHO document states that they are not standard or legally binding criteria. They are guidelines that can only be attained by severely curtailing flying activity, according to the ACI report addressing the future of aviation noise.

Dublin Airport employs over 19,000 people directly, 80% of them in Fingal, and a further 98,000 are indirectly employed in related industries. In total, 47,200 people are employed in Fingal as a result of economic activity at Dublin Airport. Deputy Daly’s amendment would threaten the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families in the Fingal area. If passed, Deputy Daly’s amendment would necessitate a massive relocation of people from areas close to Dublin Airport. If similar measures were enforced in other European city airports such as Madrid Airport, this would mean an exclusion zone of 40 km, and it would mean 70 km at Frankfurt. To achieve the WHO guidelines in Frankfurt would mean 890 flights a day would be cut to ten. It is clearly not tenable.

I believe we need a more measured approach to noise pollution. Dublin Airport is going to be even more important to Ireland as we move into a post-Brexit space. For every 1 million passengers an additional 1,200 new jobs are created. Dublin Airport has thrived and grown under successive Fine Gael-led Governments and this Minister, with passenger numbers growing from 18 million per annum in 2010 to an expected 32 million this year.

I understand the very real concerns in certain local parts of Fingal regarding noise from Dublin Airport. That is why we need a noise regulator to look at best practice internationally. It is to protect the citizens of Fingal from unnecessary noise pollution. I support the appointment of a noise regulator, so residents and, indeed, businesses can have a port of call to seek independent assistance if there are problems with noise pollution in their area. However, we need to remove this unrealistic amendment from the proposed legislation and let the airport noise regulators get on with designing bespoke, realistic solutions for noise regulation in the vicinity of Dublin Airport and protect both people from excessive noise and jobs and economic activity in Fingal. There is potential for a further 18,000 new jobs at Airside in Swords, which is only eight minutes from the airport. Fingal County Council and IDA Ireland will be marketing this to large foreign direct investment companies which require an airport link, just like Kellogg, which has moved into new offices at Airport Central at Dublin Airport.

I will be supporting the Minister’s amendment to remove this unrealistic proposal from the legislation, which would put Fingal's regional plans, and indeed national development plans, at risk. As the Minister said, this amendment would pre-empt the outcome of an EU policy making process. It is not a question of whether the guidelines are right or wrong, it is about what is possible and implementable and what the timeframe and cost would be. It would also pre-empt the work of the noise regulator, which needs to be free to set what it believes to be the right levels, etc.

I welcome the Bill and commend it to the House. We urgently need a noise regulator to protect citizens from noise pollution.

The exchanges in the Dáil between the Minister and other political parties, including my party, Sinn Féin, on the handling of the appointment of a noise regulator for Dublin Airport struck me as quite shambolic. It is incredible that the Minister has dithered on such an important issue, particularly to the local community and the airport authorities. Certainty and confidence in the community and in airport managers are crucial elements for the north Dublin communities and for the airport's future development, in terms of support from the local community. They live there and hear the regular, thunderous, nerve-jangling roars of flights taking off and landing, and of the environmental pollution it causes which we know will increase and which will affect not only their well-being but their physical health, in the form of respiratory diseases.

The future development of the airport is also co-dependent, more so on the community than on a noise regulator. The Minister needs to bring the local community along with him as well as the DAA. A harmonious tripartite relationship between the local community, the authority and the Minister or a noise regulator who will act in his stead is needed. It needs to be respectful and collaborative. It is this relationship that the Minister has undermined effectively by his inept handling of the appointment of a regulator. I do not know if he realises there are health and well-being issues, which we have discussed, facing this community. These are all the more real as we look towards an uncertain future in terms of our health and the pollution of our planet. I hope this has not being overlooked and has been taken on board.

Sinn Féin and the local community are well informed of what is going on. They are well aware of the health implications of noise and environmental pollution and the importance of noise abatement plans. We proposed two amendments to the Bill, which were accepted, which place the health and well-being of the community to the fore, where they should stay. My experience living on the southside of Dublin of the building of the national children's hospital, which it is perceived will involve another ten years of construction and consequence noise, is that members of communities and I have come to realise that we are not powerless, that we have something to say about the impact on such works on our neighbourhoods and on the areas where we live and work, and that we will be heard loud and clear. The communities of north Dublin realise this and they will exercise their right of participation in our democracy. They will no longer be easily appeased. That applies across the board for any planning, construction or change in significant infrastructure in our country.

At face value, the appointment of a noise regulator, in keeping with the EU regulation, appears to be a straightforward matter. The regulation requires Dublin Airport, now that it is over a certain size, to appoint a noise regulator. The issue was complicated when the Minister failed to appreciate basic ground rules with respect to the expertise required and the remit of a noise regulator. Expertise is essential. That expertise will have to be acquired over time because this is the first time the airport has been directed to appoint such a regulator. We have all experienced learning curves and what will be involved for the noise regulator and what we will have to do will be a learning curve.

Of equal importance is the requirement that the noise regulator will have to be independent and seen to be so. My Sinn Féin colleague, Deputy Imelda Munster, suggested that the Commission of Aviation Regulation was such a body but that was ignored. Other suggestions were made but they were also ignored. Instead the Minister decided that Fingal County Council should be the noise regulator, yet the council has no record in the area of aviation and it is also in receipt of 8% of its annual rates revenue from the airport. I would call that an obvious conflict of interest.

On those two crucial tests, that of independence and expertise, Fingal County Council does not meet the requirements. These comments are in no way a criticism of the council's staff. They have provided and continue to provide an excellent service , often in the face of the difficult challenge of limited resources which restrain what they can do, but they have served the public well in Fingal.

My comments are a criticism of the Minister. I would have expected him to learn a lesson from the mistake made from the first choice for the noise regulator, which was the IAA. This did not work out. Then he casually shifted toward Fingal County Council and now he has decided to stubbornly dig in rather than listen to other voices advising him to appoint an independent noise regulator. This is a serious matter and certainly the people of north Dublin believe it is so. They will be looking in on this debate this afternoon. They are looking to their elected representatives to support them and their concerns about this issue. They are clear that Sinn Féin is supporting them and we are arguing on their behalf and suggesting and supporting amendments to the Bill that are mindful of the health and well-being of the community. Representations have been made not only to the elected representatives on the northside of Dublin but to Deputy Imelda Munster's office as far away as County Louth. I have extended family and friends and they have a conflict in this respect. It relates to what Senator Reilly said about the members of the community who live in the vicinity of the airport and work in it at all levels ranging from senior to not so senior. They are conflicted but they are determined in respect of the outcome of their deliberations. The issue is not only about jobs but about the lives of those in the community, the rearing of children and children going to school, and people being healthy and continuing to be healthy. People's jobs support that type of lifestyle but the priority has to be that one's health is one's wealth.

Fianna Fáil has not come out of this debate well. It is supporting the mulish approach of the Minister. Residents are understandably angry at him and want their elected representatives to listen to their opinions and respond to them. They have our support. It is important for Fianna Fáil and others to support the community and convince the Minister to listen to the concerns of the local people, to change his stance and appoint a noise regulator who has the confidence of all those concerned about this important issue.

I am sharing time with Senator Humphreys.

There are eight minutes in the timeslot. How will the Senators share it?

I will share at least two minutes but I may not take the full six minutes.

The Senator wants two minutes.

No, I want six minutes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I would like to ask about something that arises from what Senator Craughwell said. He spoke about being in a newly built house. Why are houses being built in this area in the first place? It is madness. How are people getting planning permission to build them? It is a complete nonsense. In this country we seem to be building houses on floodplains, in places where there is airport noise pollution and so on. This is quite extraordinary. There are impacts on health from such noise pollution, despite what Senator Reilly said. It has significant ill-effects on the health of a population, including with respect to children's cognition and learning, cardiovascular health, sleep disturbance and annoyance.

I notice that the Minister just stated that Fingal County Council is to be designated as the independent noise regulator. He made a robust defence of this and suggested there is no conflict of interest. Even in his own contribution there is a conflict of interest. One of the areas over which the council is charged is land use, planning and management. This is classic. It could not be clearer. There is a conflict of interest. I have to say, with very engaging honesty, Fingal County Council has acknowledged this. Senator Reilly referred to a letter that was written by Ms AnnMarie Farrelly, director of services, planning and strategic infrastructure department, Fingal County Council. She states:

In the 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' for the purpose of the implementation of the Regulation 598/14 with particular reference to clause 13. Clause 13 states that "The competent authority responsible for adopting noise-related operating restrictions should be independent of any organisation involved in the airport's operation, air transport or air navigation service provision, or representing the interests thereof and of the residents living in the vicinity of the airport. This should not be understood as requiring Member States to modify their administrative structures of decision-making procedures."

In other words the council is saying it is not independent.

I highlighted that-----

I know. It is there in black and white.

On a point of information, what is the date of that letter?

Sit down and shut up.

What is the date of that letter? The Senator is not in a position to-----

The council stated quite clearly and openly that it is not independent.

And wrote a subsequent letter.

Second, that letter from the council states: "Further, Fingal Council does not have the requisite competencies available within the Council in areas of aviation operations, noise, including contour mapping, and economic feasibility assessments for the purpose of determining the cost-effectiveness" and so on. First, it is not independent and, second, it does not have the capacity or the capability to do this.

Of course there is a conflict. The council has a conflict of interest in that it is shaping the future of the airport via the Fingal development plan and the Dublin Airport local area plan, which are two of its reserved functions. It is responsible for determining planning applications at Dublin Airport, some of which may relate to caveats concerning operating restrictions there.

The letter acknowledges that Fingal does not have the requisite competencies in the area of "aviation operations, noise and economic feasibility assessments". The council receives €29 million in rates from the airport campus. It received a development levy of €21 million for the new north runway. What could be a clearer conflict of interest? The council has enormous economic interest in this.

Amendment No. 85, which the Minister has impugned, provides that "The competent authority shall direct the airport authority to ensure that average noise exposure is reduced below 45dBL, and night noise exposure below 40dBL". I note that the World Health Organization, WHO, has stated:

For average noise exposure, the GDG strongly recommends [not just recommends, Members will note, but strongly recommends] reducing noise levels produced by aircraft to below 45 dB L, as aircraft noise above this level is associated with adverse health effects.

Moreover, the WHO has stated:

For night noise exposure, the GDG strongly recommends reducing noise levels produced by aircraft during night time to below 40 dB L, as night-time aircraft noise above this level is associated with adverse effects on sleep.

With regard to night-time noise it states:

To reduce health effects, the GDG strongly recommends that policy-makers implement suitable measures to reduce noise exposure from aircraft in the population exposed to levels above the guideline values for average and night noise exposure.

Noise control maps around the airport are only produced from 50 dB upwards. Assistance with noise reduction measures, such as insulation, is only available in areas with a noise level over 63 dB. Although the difference may not seem that great, I must make a very interesting point. The average layperson will not appreciate that every increase of 10 dB represents a doubling of the loudness perceived by the human ear. Therefore 50 dB is twice as loud as 40 dB and 60 dB is four times as loud as 40 dB. My correspondent took measurements of noise levels with a calibrated sound monitor and recorded levels above 80 dB in a house where levels had been rated between 50 and 55 dB. The rating is based on an average. That means there is a peak of 80 dB, which is 16 times the loudness of 40 dB.

With regard to the question of people living in the area, I am astonished that they are still building new houses. It is an extraordinary abrogation of the planning process. One of my informants objects to Fingal County Council being made the competent body and talks about the victory it has had. She is the fourth generation of her family to live in the area.

Senator Norris made many of the points I wished to make. It is very clear that Fingal County Council has skin in the game if it receives €29 million in rates. Everybody in this House wants to protect Dublin Airport and its investment, but we have to take into consideration the local residents and the impact on them. They must be treated fairly. As Senator Norris pointed out, the WHO has raised significant concerns. I wish to be associated with those comments.

I am quite concerned about Fingal Country Council being the regulator. Another section of a letter from Ms AnnMarie Farrelly of Fingal County Council concerned the matter of independence. She wrote:

In this regard, and again in the context of clause 13, it may be that other independent bodies, which do not hold conflicting responsibilities in the provision of other functions that influence the development of Dublin Airport, should be considered for appointment as 'Competent Authority' for the purpose of Regulation.

The local authority itself clearly recognises that it may have a conflict of interest. This also undermines the confidence of the local community in the regulator.

Will Senator Humphreys tell us the date of the letter from which he is quoting?

I cannot allow that as a point of information.

We must start from the premise that we want people to have confidence in the regulator from the word go. If the council is the competent authority, it will fight an uphill battle for the confidence of the local community. It is a reasonable requirement that the competent regulator in relation to noise should not have skin in the game. The sum of €29 million is significant.

I note that the House is to adjourn at 4 p.m. Three speakers are left and the Minister must reply, so the debate will probably have to continue another day. I imagine that speakers will be left over.

I will be as brief as I can. Many of the points that must be made have been addressed already. I welcome the appointment of a regulator. It is clearly necessary. Obviously the development of Dublin Airport will provide thousands of jobs. A huge percentage of workers there live in north Dublin, near to the airport. It is important to point out that any decisions made by regulators can be appealed by local residents. We are seeking a compromise, because the airport is clearly not going anywhere. Citizens' concerns must be listened to.

My colleague asked me to clarify that there were two letters from Fingal County Council which should be on the record. I understand that Senator Norris and probably Senator Humphreys were referring to a letter dated November 2017. In October 2018, Fingal County Council issued a statement clarifying that while it had previously expressed concerns about taking on the role, it had worked with the Department and those concerns had been satisfactorily addressed. It is important to make that point.

Moreover, the health issues are clearly very subjective. Overall, the WHO recognises that the limited evidence on the health effects of environmental noise interventions is thinly spread. The constituency of my colleague, Senator Reilly, is much closer to the airport, but I have had correspondence from people living as far away as Baldoyle about the difficulties they experience, including interrupted sleep and difficulty functioning. It is important that we bear them in mind. It shows how subjective all of this is. That needs to be taken into account.

Having heard what others have said and having looked at the issue, a noise regulator is badly needed. Ideally, it would be an independent body. Perhaps that is not feasible due to the cost implications that might arise. I would like to hear from the Minister whether it could be envisaged in the future. As in any other area, independence is very important. I have always been very impressed by Fingal County Council and the professional manner in which it goes about its business, but it would be ideal for the regulator to be independent. I am very interested in the Minister's comments in this regard. I will not delay other speakers' contributions.

I would like to add my voice to the concerns about the development of Dublin Airport and the additional runway, which I have been raising continually since my election to the Seanad. I refer to the effect on the surrounding areas, specifically St. Margaret's, Portmarnock, Kinsealy and Malahide. As the Minister knows, I lived in Portmarnock for several years. I invited the Minister to my home to experience for himself the noise difficulties experienced in that area. It is having a significant impact on people's health, well-being and safety. I would like the Minister to engage further, even at this late stage, with the local community and the officials in his Department to find a solution to this. Jobs are important and Dublin Airport is very important to north County Dublin, but communities and people's lives and well-being are also very important.

The other transport infrastructure around the airport also needs to be upgraded in conjunction with the development of the airport. I would like the Minister to discuss with the local communities how we can all move forward with this. We know how important Dublin Airport is for the development of the whole economy and country, but the country is made up of more than just the economy; it is also about communities.

I want to specifically refer to the people living in St. Margaret's who have been made quite a low offer by the DAA in regard to the buying out of their properties. Senator Craughwell referred to this offer already, which is the value of the house plus 30%. As he pointed out, it is very hard to value a house that is on a flight path. The more correct way of dealing with this would be the replacement value of that house plus a premium on top. I appeal to the Minister at this late stage to liaise with the DAA and to make better offers to these people. In the grand scheme of things, it is not going to be a huge additional cost but it would transform the lives of those people, who have been living under threat for a number of years.

Many colleagues have referred to the shambolic handling of the noise regulation directive. This shambolic handling has resulted in treating the local communities with contempt, which is all I can call it. The Minister first indicated that the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, would be appointed and the authority began making plans to fulfil that role. He also maintained that primary legislation would not be needed but the Attorney General then advised that the IAA was not suitable and that legislation would, in fact, be needed. That put further doubt on the Minister's plans and, again, treated the local communities with contempt.

We raised the need to appoint a competent authority on 25 occasions between late 2016 and late 2018 and these requests were constantly ignored by the Government. Delay and incompetence prevailed. All parties have tried to work with the Government to improve this Bill. A number of amendments were put forward in the Dáil and we will be tabling further amendments in the Seanad.

We have serious concerns with Fingal County Council being appointed. Senator Noone said it would be ideal for an independent body to be appointed as the competent authority. It is not that it is ideal; it is essential that there is independence. Clearly, Fingal County Council is not independent, it does not have the expertise and it is not enthusiastic about it. I deal with people in Fingal County Council all the time and know they are not enthusiastic about this new role. I would like the Minister to outline what supports and extra resources he is going to provide to Fingal County Council in order that it can perform this role adequately.

I would like the Minister to meet the residents, sit down and see how we can all move forward. This airport development is very important for north County Dublin and the country, and the local communities are just as important.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I know the Minister and his officials have been available generally to assist us in this regard. While I was not present for the Minister's speech, I have read it thoroughly. There is probably not a lot I can say that has not been said by others but I want to echo, in particular, aspects of the contributions of Senators Craughwell and Norris.

Like others, I have been in touch with people who feel directly concerned about this. We are all aware of how important our economic future and well-being is to the country and how central to our economic and social and cultural life Dublin Airport is. This is a classic case of the hard choices that legislators have to make when trying to identify and follow through on the common good, which is to say, to promote business, enterprise and the proper and effective functioning of an airport while at the same time ensuring people's welfare and that those most directly affected are properly heard and their needs properly addressed.

Like others, I have been in touch with people living in St. Margaret's and I want to reflect some of the concerns they continue to have. While they are supportive of the developments and of the new runway at the airport, they feel their interests are not being sufficiently protected and they still do not feel sufficiently consulted around mitigation measures regarding noise pollution, traffic and so on. In general, they are not impressed by what is proposed to be done for them in terms of insulation schemes, buy-out schemes, adjustment to flight paths and, possibly, sound barriers, which are all part of the balanced approach the Minister described in his speech.

Senator Craughwell brought out an important point about the value of houses, where people would be allowed to relocate, and Senator Clifford-Lee has asked questions about whether the baseline should be the value of the house or the replacement value. Even there, I wonder can this properly address the difficulty, given the housing situation, of finding accommodation that is equivalent to what people already have in terms of transport links, quality of life and all the other criteria. More needs to be done and said in that area.

Of course, there is the question of the independence of Fingal County Council as the independent noise authority for the airport. The Minister said what he said and he is clearly of the view there is not a conflict of interest. However, the issue remains of serious concern to residents, who point out, as others have in the House, that the income in the form of rates directly from the airport, and from various businesses servicing the airport, means it simply cannot be an independent player in all of this. I was thinking recently of the debate in Britain whereby it is proposed to split up the big four accountancy and auditing firms, and to separate out the consulting side of the house from the accounting and auditing side of the house, but the question remains whether it is really possible to get completely solid Chinese walls. The Minister went to considerable pains in his speech to say there is not a conflict of interest yet I did not hear him use the word "independent" in the context of the noise regulation office. Can it be ensured that there would be absolutely no chilling effect on the role of the noise regulation office, having regard to the financial and other connections with the airport and related businesses?

With regard to the number of night-time flights, the Minister is not on board with An Bord Pleanála, which has restricted the number of night-time flights to 65 movements per night. While I understand the Minister's position, we cannot reckon enough with the concerns of people. We had a similar debate in the context of people affected by wind turbines and we discussed just how destructive this can be of people's quality of life. It really is an important issue.

With regard to insulation schemes, I want to quote my correspondent. She pointed out the DAA is not proposing to allow heat exchange systems to be installed in houses and this effectively means that if people want to sleep at night, they cannot open their windows. Think back to last summer, when opening your windows was a necessity, not a luxury, she says, yet this is something facing residents due to the inadequate nature of the insulation programme on offer. She again decries the lack of negotiation, as she sees it.

In recent times, we had all sorts of talk about what the World Health Organisation had to say and how important it was to heed it. The Minister himself talked about the noise regulator operating on an evidence base. If the WHO says that certain levels of noise are dangerous, do we take that seriously or not? That is a very fundamental question at the heart of all of this.

Debate adjourned.