I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 50 together.
Ireland, as an island nation, is particularly dependant on air and sea connectivity both socially and economically, and both the aviation and maritime sectors play a critical role in this regard.
Measures implemented with regard to travel restrictions, due to Covid-19, are decided by Government as a whole, based on public health advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.
The Government’s new “Green list” of countries for international travel came into effect on Monday 21 September. Travel to the seven countries on this list, which currently have a ‘normal precautions’ (“green”) security status rating, are exempt from the general advice against non-essential travel overseas and the request to restrict movements does not apply to individuals arriving into Ireland from these locations. This is a positive step in opening up international travel.
The Government has also taken the decision to broadly align with the European Commission’s co-ordinated approach to international travel, which is expected to be considered on 13 October at the General Affairs Council. With regard to countries other than those on the green list, the proposed new EU approach would involve graduated requirements for testing for incoming and outgoing passengers.
In this regard my Department is in consultation with the Department of Health, the HSE and maritime and aviation stakeholders, to consider the possibility of introducing testing for Covid-19 in the context of international travel, as an alternative to the current restrictions, which is consistent with public health requirements and cognisant of the resources and capacity available in our health sector.
The Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of generalised supports measures to help mitigate the effects of the crisis on our citizens and businesses, including the aviation and maritime sectors. These measures include the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the new Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, which will now run to April 2021.
In June 2020, the Government announced the formation of a Taskforce for Aviation Recovery, which delivered its final report on 10 July. The report, which is available on the Gov.ie web site, contains a number of recommendations on how to support Irish aviation. The recommendations include measures to sustain the industry for as long as travel restrictions are in place and also measures to help stimulate a return to growth at the appropriate time.
In addition to the broader financial supports for jobs and businesses set out in the July Stimulus package, the Government is also providing targeted supports for aviation, many of which arise from the Aviation Task Force Final Report recommendations. These are as follows:
- Subvention of air services to the regions is being maintained
- Some €2.5 million in Exchequer funding is being provided for capital investment in the areas of safety and security to the airports of Donegal, Ireland West (Knock) and Kerry
- A new Regional Airport Programme for the period 2020 – 2024, which will incorporate a number of support Schemes for our regional airports, is due to be published shortly
- Shannon Airport has been given an emergency grant of €6.1m to enable the Airport to complete its Hold Baggage Screen project – which is a safety and security requirement under EU Regulations.
- Legislation has been introduced to provide a State-guarantee for Refund Credit Notes issued to the customers of Irish licensed travel agents and tour operators who have had to cancel holiday bookings. This guarantee ensures that where a Credit Note is accepted by a customer then its monetary value will be secured until such times as it is used in the future.
My Department is also examining how best to help secure the future of the Shannon Group, including the Airport, and in this regard it is proposed that a Memorandum for Government will be submitted in the coming weeks.
Other recommendations, including further targeted financial supports to help reinstate connectivity, regional development and sustainability in the aviation sector, are being developed by my Department. This work will feed into the Government’s further plans to re-launch international connectivity and to aid broader economic recovery at the appropriate time, while being cognisant of prevailing public health advice.
The maritime sector is essential to the continued supply of goods coming in and out of the country, accounting as it does, for 90% of Ireland’s international trade in volume terms. It is, therefore, vitally important to ensure that Ireland’s ports, shipping operations and all the elements of that maritime supply chain continue to function.
In the earlier part of the year my Department provided for a financial intervention by way of the designation of five key strategic routes as public service obligation routes. This measure was taken in order to maintain continuity of service and to mitigate against some of the financial impacts of the crisis. However, as freight volumes have recovered somewhat and the “emergency” element has now gone, this measure has now been discontinued. My Department continues to explore all avenues available in terms of supports to ensure our strategic maritime routes are maintained. As we move to align ourselves more closely with the EU position on a more co-ordinated approach to international travel, I am confident that the clarity being provided will help in restoring consumer confidence in the maritime sector.
I and my officials have met stakeholders in both the aviation and maritime sectors and will continue to engage with them to determine what measures we can put in place to assist these sectors.