Air Services Agreements: Motion

We are now in public session. This meeting has been convened for the consideration of a motion on approving the terms of air services agreements between Ireland and the Arab Republic of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. This was referred to committee by order of the Dáil on 3 July. The committee has been asked to send a message to the Dáil not later than 12 July saying that it has completed its consideration of the motion. The briefing prepared by the Department has been circulated to members.

I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross and his officials to this meeting and I invite him to make his opening statement please.

I thank the committee for facilitating the discussion of this item at short notice.

This Dáil motion is to approve the terms of an air services agreement between Ireland and the Arab Republic of Egypt and an air services agreement between Ireland and the United Arab Emirates. These two agreements were negotiated and agreed at official level some years ago. However, as is normal for such international agreements, constitutional procedures need to be followed by both sides in order to allow the agreements to be formally signed and to enter into force.

In the case of Ireland these procedures involve both Government and Dáil approval. The Government approved both agreements at its meeting on 12 June last. The passing of the Dáil motion will allow both agreements to be signed at an opportune occasion in the future. The United Nations General Assembly often provides such an opportunity and may be suitable for these agreements. It is due to open in New York on 18 September 2018. To avail of this opportunity the Government is seeking to have the Dáil motion passed before the summer recess.

The majority of international trade in goods and services is now governed by international trade and investment agreements under the World Trade Organization, WTO, system. However, international air transport remains outside of the WTO system and instead is governed by a multitude of bilateral air services agreements negotiated between states within the framework of the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.

International aviation agreements generally follow a prescribed format and both of these agreements are no different in that regard. The main purpose of such agreements is to provide for the reciprocal granting of air traffic rights to airlines from both countries to operate scheduled air services.

The agreements also cover a list of other standard provisions to facilitate air services, such as those relating to aviation safety and security and the facilitation of passengers and cargo.

Ireland and the UAE have had close co-operative relations for many years. The text of the Ireland-UAE air services agreement was agreed at official level in 1995. This was updated by a new agreement at a meeting in Dublin in December 2011. Both sides agreed to apply these agreements on an administrative basis, pending entry into force. The formal procedures on the Irish side have been delayed until now. However, both sides would now like the agreement to be signed and ratified as soon as possible. The vast majority of air services in and out of Ireland are now governed either by the EU single aviation market or by EU aviation agreements with third countries, such as the EU-US open skies agreement. A number of important new services still operate under national level agreements, however, such as this agreement with the UAE.

In terms of the services operating, the agreement with the UAE is now one of Ireland’s most important national level agreements. The two largest UAE airlines, Emirates and Etihad, operate successful double daily flights from Dublin to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Both airlines have gradually increased capacity on these routes since they were first established. Etihad began services in 2007 and Emirates began services in 2012. Aer Lingus also operated Dublin-Dubai for a short period between 2006 and 2007.

Ireland has good trade, tourism and cultural relations with the UAE. The good direct air services between the two countries are a great facilitator of those relations, which will be further bolstered by the Taoiseach’s recent announcement that Ireland will participate in Expo 2020 in Dubai and the fact that Ireland lifted its visa requirement for UAE citizens wishing to visit Ireland with effect from 31 January 2018. In addition to direct connectivity to the UAE, these air services also provide good one-stop connectivity options to a range of destinations in Asia, Africa and Australasia.

The European Union is currently seeking to negotiate an EU air services agreement with the UAE. Ireland is supportive of these efforts, but in the meantime it is important that our national level agreement with the UAE is signed and comes into force. The air services agreement with Egypt was negotiated at official level at a meeting in Dublin in October 2014. Both sides would now like the agreement to be formally signed as soon as possible. Egypt has made inquiries on the matter at various meetings between Ireland and Egypt in recent years. The matter was discussed during a visit of an Oireachtas delegation to Egypt in January 2017, which included the Ceann Comhairle. In January 2018, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney also travelled to Cairo as part of a wider trip to the Middle East.

There are no scheduled air services operating between Ireland and Egypt at present. Tourist charter services operated in the past from Ireland to Egypt. No airline has any immediate plans to operate direct scheduled services between the two countries. This agreement, however, will facilitate future services with a view to enhancing connectivity between Ireland and Egypt.

I thank the committee again for its time. I hope that after consideration by the committee it will be possible for the Dáil motion to be referred back to the full House so that it can be passed before the summer recess. This will allow both these important agreements to be signed in the coming months.

I call on Deputy Munster.

On page three of the Minister's statement, he mentioned the formal procedures on the Irish side having been delayed until now, and the text of the Ireland-UAE air service agreement having been agreed at official level in 1995. What was the cause of such delay in bringing about the formal procedures?

I do not think there was any formal reason for it. These are enabling agreements, which are not essential for people to fly in and out or to take direct flights. It is purely administrative, and I do not think there was any political, sinister or strange reason for it.

What is the reason for it now as opposed to other years? Is there anything in particular that would have-----

No. Nothing that I know of. It is standard practice to do this in international agreements. This is just formalising it, but they can fly without it. That is the same with the Egyptian one. It enables it, although there are no flights at present.

I was just curious given the timeframe between the two. The Minister also said Ireland lifted its visa requirement for UAE citizens wishing to visit Ireland from January 2018. How unusual is that? What was the reason for it?

That is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs. I do not know but I can find out.

Yes, to find out the reasoning behind it.

As far as I know, Irish citizens do not need a visa to go there, do they? It is probably built on a reciprocal arrangement.

I was just curious.

It is a good question. I call on Deputy Troy.

In the context that we are negotiating this bilateral agreement, and in light of Brexit, the big issue facing the aviation sector is the fact that the UK will fall out of the open skies policy. What work have the Minister and his officials done to prepare for the eventuality of no agreement being reached?

If we can finish the previous matter first, the Minister will answer that question if it is appropriate. I would like to get this out of the way if we can. The Deputy can raise that question again immediately if he wishes.

It is a valid question.

I agree it is an important question but I would like to get this off the agenda. There is a joint committee meeting at 10.45 a.m.

That is an hour away. The Minister will not take an hour to reply to me.