Aviation Regulation Bill, 2000 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I was referring earlier to airports and mentioned that Cork and Shannon airports are vital national assets and should be retained in public ownership. I had already referred to Dublin Airport. I said it would be unthinkable for anybody to suggest selling off our major harbours and ports. Likewise, it would be equally unthinkable to lose control of our main airports or, indeed, all our airports. Major problems are threatening the sustainable development of tourism, one of which is access to the regions. There are other problems facing our economy such as manpower availability, inflation and competitiveness.

There is a huge imbalance in tourism growth at present between the east coast and the rest of the country. One of the problems is that, with the traffic congestion on our roads, it takes more than four hours to travel from Cork to Dublin; the times arepro rata for other journeys. This problem is a huge disincentive to tourists who wish to travel outside the Dublin area. Our trains are packed and substandard and the air routes are extremely expensive for tourists. In terms of price, they are geared mainly towards the business sector.

For example, a return air ticket between Dublin and Cork can cost between £90 and £140 for a 25 minute journey. This is exorbitant and is an obstacle to regional tourism development. It is also possibly due to the monopoly enjoyed by Aer Lingus on the route. If they plan ahead, travellers can fly from Dublin to London for £50 or £60, but it can cost up to £150 to travel to Cork. There must be something wrong in that regard.

Regarding the future of Dublin, Shannon and Cork Airports, I worry about the plans Aer Rianta announced for Cork last year when there was talk of a private consortium bidding to take over the airport. Aer Rianta then held a high profile briefing session in Cork and announced plans for major infrastructural development, costing more than £60 million at Cork Airport over the next five years. Do the main elements of those plans remain on schedule? The investment plans comprise four main elements – airfield, passenger and terminal cargo facilities and access. The current status of each of these elements should be disclosed by the Minister in her reply.

Regarding the airfield, the main runway has been overlaid with asphalt and widened by the provision of 7.5 metre shoulders on both sides. This will upgrade the existing concrete surface and extend the life of the runway by approximately 15 to 20 years. An apron extension, together with the provision of a new taxiway and the upgrading of an existing taxiway, was scheduled to commence later this year. We were told this project would cost £8 million and take approximately 18 months to complete. Will the Minister give a guarantee that it will go ahead?

Regarding the now overcrowded passenger terminal, the plan is to increase terminal capacity to handle 2.5 million passengers per year by 2003 and to facilitate further expansion thereafter to handle growth of up to 5 million passengers per annum in the medium to long-term. What is the status of that proposal? In relation to cargo facilities, what is the status of the work that was due to commence midway through 2002? Will it go ahead on schedule? Regarding airport access, what is the position with regard to the new internal road systems and the provision of surface and multi-storey car parks? The growth in passenger traffic at Cork Airport is well in excess of all forecasts. This has created new pressures on the infrastructure. Will the Minister outline what exactly is happening in relation to Cork Airport.

There is ongoing controversy about the role of the Department of Defence in opposing the development of Eircom Park. South Dublin County Council recently gave planning permission for a 45,000 seat stadium in Dublin west. However, regrettably, the Minister for Defence and his Department have used an unpublished consultant's report to block that development. The contents of this report, which was carried out by a British consultant, Snow, are being put forward as reasons that the stadium should not be built.

There is a Freedom of Information Act, but I have been refused access to that report on the grounds that it is still under consideration. This is appalling and the unpublished report is being used by the Government to torpedo the FAI's proposal to develop Eircom Park. The report is being intentionally suppressed for that purpose.

I am concerned that the Bill could be used to introduce regulations that would allow a licence to be given now on the basis that, at some future date, Baldonnel could be developed as a commercial airport. Aeronautical safety standards could be cited as reasons to block Eircom Park. I understand the Air Corps has been quoted as saying that there is no problem with flight paths in relation to Eircom Park. However, the Minister for Defence and his Department objected to the planning application that the FAI submitted to South Dublin County Council. Part of the objection was that the stadium could interfere with operations at the aerodrome.

The Air Corps is reported as saying that there is no problem in respect of military matters. However, in the Bill, the Minister for Public Enterprise is proposing to give herself the power to make new regulations in respect of commercial activities at Baldonnel. The Minister for Defence could then say to the Minister for Public Enterprise that he wished to see Baldonnel expanded in the future and become a commercial airport. He could request that regulations be put in place now with regard to air safety standards. There is every possibility at this stage that the stadium may not go ahead because of the behaviour of the Minister for Defence and his Department. Regulations should not be made earlier than one month prior to the commencement of operations if such operations are to commence at Baldonnel. Regulations should not be made on the hypothetical basis that, at some future date, the aerodrome will become a commercial airport.

There is serious concern that the development of Eircom Park will be blocked by the Government to justify the construction of a national stadium at Abbotstown. Enough delaying mechanisms have been put in place already to stop the development of Eircom Park. People are most concerned that the Department of Defence will have an amendment made to the IAA Act to allow the IAA to have civil jurisdiction over military aerodromes. The Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, said in the Seanad that she would speak to the FAI to allay its fears, although the Department of Defence is attempting to block Eircom Park. Will the Minister outline if she has spoken to the Minister for Defence and the FAI since she gave that undertaking in the Seanad? It would be a pity if this Bill could be used to defeat what has been done by the FAI. I look forward to the Minister's response.

(Dublin West): The Bill is pitiful legislation for the Minister to introduce in the House. Its name may give the impression that it deals with the serious questions involved in the development of aviation in the State. However, when on studying the legislation, one finds that it is pathetically narrow and deals only with the regulation of airport costs and a few other functions. The Bill's Title is entirely misleading in terms of its scope and the subjects for which it makes provision.

It does not contain any recognition of the major challenges posed in many areas by the development of aviation in Ireland in the future. The Bill totally ignores the need for serious planned development of airports and air travel. It does not recognise the principles that must be developed on which the aviation industry has to be based for the future. Some of the serious environmental questions raised in regard to the future of air transport are totally ignored in the Bill. We have a major failure and a Bill masquerading as something which it is not. The Bill is merely preparing the ground for the eventual privatisation of Aer Rianta, the national publicly owned airport authority. That is the reason for this limitation.

It is clear that Fianna Fáil's philosophy is to hand over every bit of public enterprise possible to private enterprise and private interests and to allow them to take it away on their own bat. Fianna Fáil in Government has been on a privatisation binge over the past three years. The Minister for Public Enterprise infamously presided over the privatisation of Telecom Éireann which turned into the Eircom debacle. The people should be warned to watch out for further privatisation, including that of Aer Rianta which is being prepared for by this Bill.

One would have to go back to Cromwell's plunder to find an occasion like we saw at the recent annual general meeting of the shareholders of Eircom when so much was taken from so many for the benefit of so few. The people were conned into the idea that we had a shareowning democracy, that they could be part of it and that it would be to their benefit and to that of society. Every trick in the book was used to con the people along those lines, but we saw it was a gigantic sting to burn them out of their hard earned money. The benefits will now accrue to a small cabal.

That is precisely what the Government has in mind for Aer Rianta, Aer Lingus and any other company if it gets away with it. Any preparation in the direction of the privatisation of the national airport authority should be vehemently resisted. We should call the bluff of the Minister and the Government on this pretentious legislation.

One important aspect which could have been covered by a proper and comprehensive Aviation Regulation Bill was brought to our attention by trade union members working at our national airports. According to section 14(1)(h) of the Irish Aviation Authority Act, 1993, which I have studied in preparation for this debate, the operation, management and provision of services at aerodromes is supposed to come under the authority and direction of the Irish Aviation Authority. However, its remit ends when the aeroplanes arrive at the airport.

The workers and trade union members who organise the many activities at the airports are extremely concerned about the safety implications of their work. An airport is a hive of activity before aeroplanes leave and after they arrive as vehicles are moving around them loading luggage and catering services. It is extremely disappointing and of great concern to airport workers that there is no attempt to ascribe responsibility for the health and safety of workers in this Bill. The Government has missed an opportunity to deal with these matters in a way that would be of advantage to the workers and therefore to the public. We need to ascribe responsibility for these matters. The Irish Aviation Authority and people who are briefed on health and safety matters and who could competently oversee and regulate activities at the airports should ensure the utmost safety of everyone using the airport, particularly the workforce. However, that is not happening at present. There are serious concerns which need to be addressed and that must be done on Committee Stage.

The other major aspect of aviation in this country and internationally which has not been taken into account is the enormous implications for the global environment by the development of air transport. As sober a body as the European Commission in a submission on air transport and the environment, which was drawn up in 1999, states some of the challenges, difficulties and problems which must be addressed. Paragraph 5 states:

A vicious circle endangering the air transport industry's economic success, the Globe's environment and the quality of life of citizens has become a real threat. The combination of existing environmental legislation, local improvements at airport level and the industry's own efforts obviously do not suffice for reconciling pressing environmental needs with the development of an industry which is of vital importance for the competitiveness of the economy and for job creation. Accordingly, action is required targeting beyond business-as-usual improvements.

There is no mention in this Bill of the action necessary beyond "business-as-usual improvements". The problems are spelt out in detail by the European Commission. It also states:

The air transport industry and Europe's citi zens are increasingly facing the problems of success: Manifold environmental impacts of air transport are growing as well. Globally, it contributes to the greenhouse effect and to the depletion of the ozone layer, where high altitude emissions might be a specific problem. ... At local level, in the immediate vicinity of airports concerns focus on the potential health and environmental effects of noise and air pollution from emissions such as oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds and particulates.

With the European aviation industry growing by approximately 10% per annum, these problems will increase in seriousness over the next few years if they are not addressed and if principles are not agreed by which they can be eliminated. An Aviation Regulation Bill should be one of the instruments by which the Government directs the attention of all towards the alleviation and resolution of these problems. However, there is not a word in the Bill in this regard. The same Commission report points out, on a simple enough matter, that 350,000 hours of flight by transport aircraft are wasted in Europe each year due to airport and air traffic management delays and non-optimal routings. Even by the measure of better management, a significant beginning could be made with regard to reducing the environmental problems.

Neither is there any recognition in the Bill of what the future holds. Let us be quite clear. This problem will have to be faced some time down the line, sooner rather than later, because nobody in the media, the industry or Government is prepared to face up to it now. The headlong rush by certain airline companies to massively increase their profits by throwing offers at millions of people to get them into the skies in polluting aircraft is not sustainable in environmental terms. When I have to leave this country for work purposes I generally take an aircraft, so we are all implicated and involved in this issue but there has to be an objective audit of the relative costs of various forms of transport as far as the environment is concerned. In view of the planned growth of aviation, this will become an increasingly urgent and important issue.

The irresponsible abandonment by globalised capitalism generally in the form of all kinds of private and multinational companies taking to the skies carrying goods in all directions has to be challenged. There is massive duplication as regards ferrying goods around the world both in and out of this country and every other country. I have no doubt that rationalisation will be forced upon people having regard to the whole question of environmental protection. When one looks around the shops and supermarkets at the goods that are ferried by aircraft from all points of the world one can see the senselessness of the current situation. European mineral water can be found on sale in North America and North American mineral water can be found on sale in Europe. There will be claims on the bottles as to how the water is pristine and environmentally friendly, but they were carried by two planes which crossed each other in mid-Atlantic spewing out massive pollution in the process.

A rationalisation would suggest that the production from each area should stay in each area and thereby massively reduce the pollution that would otherwise be incurred. Each plane that takes to the sky creates as much pollution as thousands of automobiles, which we know are already highly pollutant. There should also be rationalisation with regard to the production of vegetables, flowers and various other items. At the moment there is no rationalisation and no planning. Profit by private individuals and companies is the only touchstone. That is not sustainable and it is time the Government took cognisance of that but there is not the slightest hint of an awareness on its part of these challenges of the future, and of the here and now, in this Aviation Regulation Bill.

The alternative to the direction the Government is taking is clear. There must be no question of the privatisation either of Aer Rianta or of Aer Lingus. They must be maintained in public ownership but there is room for major changes within the management structures. There is a crucial necessity for major changes within the management structures of those publicly owned organisations. For example, it is a scandal that Aer Lingus catering workers at Dublin Airport are paid less per hour than the McDonald's restaurant down the road pays. They now find themselves obliged to take industrial action to try to secure a decent level of wages. Is that the way for a publicly owned company to act?

We need to clear out from the boards of publicly owned companies the hacks who have been stuffed in there over decades by the major political parties in one Government after another, whose only qualification was allegiance to a political party and who generally knew nothing about the industry or the area of public activity of the companies to which they were appointed. That is scandalous. We need boards that are generally representative of aviation workers, the people at the coal-face who do the work and who know the industry. All aspects of the aviation work force should be included on the boards genuinely representing the interests of their members. The customers who use the aviation services should be represented. The residents who abut the airports and who feel the effects of airport noise, pollution, etc. should be included, as well as environmental experts and advocates. That would create boards that are genuinely representative of the ordinary people and the workers concerned. They would come up with a policy that will provide the best service possible but with the least damage possible.

There must also be an objective auditing, on an international basis, of the merits of various means of transport. This is a small country and train transport should be given priority because it is massively less polluting. With proper investment in train transport, one could get from the edges to the centre and from the centre to the periphery almost as quickly as by aeroplane. The investment should be in that direction.

Tá sé truamhéileach amach is amach ó thaobh an Aire agus ó thaobh an Rialtais de Bille chomh suarach leis seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála.

An Bille um Rialáil Eitlíochta, 2000 a ghlaotar air ach níl le fáil anseo ach rialáil ar chostaisí aerphoirt amháin. Níl tagairt dá laghad déanta de cheisteanna tromchúiseacha. An chéad chéim i dtreo príobháidiú Aer Rianta atá anseo agus caithfear cur in aghaidh sin. Ní ghlacaim leis agus caithfear freasúracht thréan a chur suas ina choinne. Chonacthas chomh tubaisteach do ghnáth dhaoine na tíre seo ab ea príobháidiú Telecom Éireann.

Níl aon tagairt sa Bhille do chúrsaí timpeallachta maidir le haer taisteal nó leis an truailliú a bhaineann le aer taisteal. Caithfear na ceisteanna tromchúiseacha seo a phlé agus plean cuimsitheach a chur chun cinn chun déileáil leis na ceisteanna. Is iad siúd na hábhair ba cheart a bheith sa Bhille seachas an rud suarach cúng a cuireadh os ár gcomhair.

The Bill is timely. With the expansion in recent times in aviation activity and the growth of our main airports, it is important that we have a regulation Bill of this nature. I come from the mid-west region and we all understand the importance of Shannon Airport to us. I welcome the increased volume of business in Shannon Airport in recent times, particularly the number of competitive airlines using Shannon.

Air travel has become more popular, particularly as a result of competition. To a certain degree we owe a debt of gratitude to the likes of Ryanair, Virgin Airways and the other airlines which shook up the industry. In the past, Aer Lingus had a monopoly in the business and I am not certain that the consumer got good value. Competition has been the lifeblood of the aviation industry and has resulted in an increase in the number of people using the different airlines.

Some of my colleagues focused on Farranfore Airport. There is a tendency to think of that airport in the context of Kerry and politicians representing Kerry are extremely vocal in protecting it. They recognise the importance of the national carrier flying into and out it on an ongoing basis. The national carrier, conscious of what is to happen in the future, may not consider it part of its role to fly into and out of small airports such as Farranfore. It is important for the national carrier to recognise that the development of regional airports is extremely important to Ireland.

West Limerick is contiguous to north Kerry and I am aware of many people from west Limerick who use Farranfore Airport. I am also aware of companies such as Kostal in Abbeyfeale with more than 1,000 employees who use Farranfore on an ongoing basis. Therefore, the importance of Farranfore Airport is not exclusive to Kerry, it is important to west Limerick.

It was with a degree of sadness that I read the inquiry into what happened to the four Air Corps pilots in that unfortunate accident on 1 July 1999. The inquiry concluded its deliberations and that report is compulsory reading for anyone who wants to get an appreciation of the Government's negligence, to a certain degree, in this area. It is regrettable those four people lost their lives in that tragedy when the objective in sea and air rescue research is to save lives, as those pilots were trying to do on that occasion. I agree with the objective that was sought by introducing a service of this nature on a 24 hour basis with effect from 1 July 1999, but it was negligent of the Government bodies who allowed that service to be introduced without having the necessary safety procedures in place. The Department of Defence and to a lesser extent the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources have a major responsibility in this area. Extreme pressure was exerted to provide this service. It is regrettable to note from the report that funding for the provision of the service outside of normal hours was not clarified before it was introduced.

My colleague, Deputy Deasy, referred earlier to the questioning of the safety procedures of a service of this kind provided out of Waterford Airport. I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss this report comprehensively in the House, which I advocated to our Whip. It deserves analysis to ensure the mistakes that led to the tragic loss of those four lives will not be repeated.

Safety is paramount to the valuable rescue services provided by Air Corps pilots and others and there should be no penny-pinching in terms of safety measures in the provision of such services. Many people who venture out to sea or climb mountains often do not take account of important factors such as the weather forecast and they put the lives of people involved in rescue services, such as those Air Corps pilots, at risk.

When I was party spokesperson for the marine I was conscious of the importance of the introduction of Bills such as the Marine Casualties Investigation Bill, but much more needs to be done to increase the safety awareness of those who go out to sea or climb mountains to ensure they observe safety codes and practices and do not put in jeopardy the lives of those involved in our rescue services who are often the unsung heroes of our country. How many times have we heard of people being rescued from the side of a mountain or having fallen down a precipice when they should not have ventured where they did. It behoves such people to be responsible.

While Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel is a military air base, predictions have been made that it may evolve into being used for civilian activities. In the obsession to achieve the construction of a national stadium in Abbotstown, the cost of which has now been quantified at £1 billion, an attempt has been made to ensure that the FAI avail of that facility to make it more viable. It is time the powers that be recognise that the FAI and those involved in Eircom Park, who have got together a package of £65 million, intend to embark on their own activities and to have their own stadium. People should recognise that the FAI has a right to proceed with Eircom Park and its intention is similar to that which prompted the GAA's expansion of Croke Park to a 75,000 seater stadium because it wanted to be independent and autonomous in its own right. If the FAI wants to proceed with that project and it has a package to fund, it should be allowed to do so.

It is regrettable that the Department of Defence, in its objections to South Dublin County Council and its previous objections, has probably been trying to obstruct the development of Eircom Park. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation displayed the height of bad manners when he promised he would report back to the people in Eircom Park within two weeks of having met them, but it took the issuing of a letter nine months later to arrange a meeting with him. That is evidence of a deliberate policy of obfuscation to ensure that venture does not proceed.

While we recognise that safety is of the utmost importance with regard to airfields, Eircom Park and the FAI engaged two safety consultants with considerable aviation experience, one of whom carried out work for Aer Rianta on behalf of the Department of Defence with regard to Casement Aerodrome. In terms of the international safety codes administered out of Montreal, those consultants confirmed that the development of Eircom Park does not pose a safety hazard. That was also confirmed by the Air Corps. I was pleased to hear the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation state that he had no objection to the development of Eircom Park proceeding. It is time we recognised that it will proceed, people want it to proceed and there should be an end to the obstruction to its development that appears to be taking place.

Eircom Park is approximately four kilometres from Casement Aerodrome. Given that the Dublin Mountains lie behind that airfield and are on the same flight path and they are not viewed as a potential hazard, why should the development of Eircom Park be considered a safety hazard? If we have decided to proceed with the national stadium, I wish it well. However, was it decided to proceed with it when it was not part of the programme for Government or part of the interim programme that was arranged? Deputy Allen and I were almost jumped on because we questioned the Minister about it. There is an ultimate cost of up to £1 billion involved by the time the facility and infrastructure is in place. We would be irresponsible politicians if we did not question spending money of that nature and it behoves us as an Opposition to say: "Stop the lights and let us look at this in the context of long-term viability".

I question the viability of the project. Croke Park is an independent facility and while the rugby sector may avail of its facilities, we under stand there is no athletics track there. Will it be viable in the long-term? We are all conscious of what happened with the Millennium Dome in London; it started as a millennium project, but it has now turned out to be the greatest white elephant in the UK. They are trying to get rid of it lock, stock and barrel. If we are not careful and do not look at this realistically in a long-term context, we might be reminded of how remiss we were. Those are areas that concern me.

To get back to the Air Corps report, I hope it is read and the criticisms therein discussed here. Having read the report about the safety factors and the conditions in which these people went out, it is tragic that four people lost their lives. It is time to look at our sea and rescue services, particularly our use of helicopters. We have five Dauphin helicopters, one of which is based in Finner Camp and one in Waterford, but serious questions marks remain over this type of helicopter. We ordered them in 1982 and got them in 1986, but the company which produced them no longer produces that model. An engineer states in the report that it is difficult to get spare parts for it and remarks on the avionics of the craft; he speaks about cannibalising other helicopters in order to get parts. This has focused attention on defence, the role of the Air Corps and equipment. We must analyse this situation. It is not satisfactory and that is why I look forward to a worthwhile debate about our future plans in this regard. If we decide to use Waterford we must put in the infrastructure and ensure that it is safe to use.

I could talk much more about aviation and Members have raised different aspects of the subject. Regarding Aer Lingus and Farranfore, I hope Aer Lingus does not abdicate its responsibilities there. I know it is probably looking at the international scene and wondering whether small regional airports are important, but, as has been said here many times, decentralisation and moving activity out of large urban areas is important and the regional airports are vital to the success of such action.

They did tender, but after that it is out of my hands.

I refer to section 46, Part V, of this Bill which will have enormous implications for the people of my constituency. This section proposes amending the Irish Aviation Authority Act, 1993, by inserting a subsection which states that the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Defence, for the purpose of the licensing and regulation of aerodromes and the regulation of aeronautical safety standards at aerodromes, prescribe in regulations that sections 58(1) and 60, and such other provisions of this Act as specified in the regulations, shall apply to civil aviation operations at such aerodromes under the control of the Minister for Defence, as may be specified in the regulations.

I understand that to mean that the Government plans to open up Baldonnel Airport to civil aviation. I know of no other aerodrome or airport owned by the Minister for Defence and which would lend itself to being commercialised or civilianised as this section proposes. It does not say that directly or in so many words, but that is what it means. I understand the plan being hatched by the Government for Baldonnel is to allow commercial aviation operators to use Baldonnel for a range of operations.

On a point of information, we are not hatching anything. There is no plan.

That is a useful intervention and I am sure the Minister will clarify it further; she will have an opportunity to state categorically that the Government does not intend to have Baldonnel used for commercial aviation purposes, if that is what she is saying.

This Government.

In that case, what is this section about? Why is it here? It is here to allow for the civilian part of the operations of an airport which is currently under the Minister for Defence to come under the Irish Aviation Authority. No matter what construction one puts on it, that means Baldonnel. There is no other airport I am aware of that would have the level of aviation activity which would require it to be covered by this legislation.

I will clarify when winding up.

My understanding is that plans have been discussed for some time which would allow Baldonnel to be used for civilian aviation purposes, mainly to provide facilities for cargo, freight, training, flying clubs, private executive and business jets and a range of overnight activity. I know that an organisation called the Baldonnel Liaison Group had some communication with the Department and was informed that the thinking was that in order for a civil aviation operation to work, a level of about ten to 12 flights per hour would be needed. I am also informed that it is thought that Baldonnel could be operated on a 24 hour basis and that it would be more likely that up to 20 flights per hour would use Baldonnel. One is therefore looking at approximately 400 to 500 flights per day.

The reason that concerns me is that the flight path to and from Baldonnel is directly over a large part of my constituency. There is a range of areas in my constituency which are directly in the Baldonnel approach corridor and within two miles of the central line of that corridor – areas such as Killiney, Dalkey, Ballybrack, Loughlinstown, Glasthule, Dun Laoghaire, Blackrock, Monkstown, Sallynoggin, Glenageary, Deans grange, Foxrock, Cabinteely, Cornelscourt, Stillorgan, Booterstown and Leopardstown.

That is the entire constituency.

I have no doubt that the people who live in those areas will be greatly concerned that the Government is slipping into the Aviation Regulation Bill a measure under the miscellaneous part of the Bill which will allow Baldonnel to be civilianised. Of course, it does not declare it openly.

This Government has no plans.

By the time people wake up to what is really going on, the Minister will be gone, she will have washed her hands of it, the whole matter will then be in the hands of the aviation commissioner and the Minister, when questioned about it, will say she no longer has any responsibility for it and that it is now in the hands of the regulator.

I do not want to interrupt the Deputy but I will clarify that the end of the debate.

I will be listening very intently for the clarification. There is either a purpose in this particular provision being in the Bill or there is not. I cannot see any other purpose for this provision being in the Bill other than an intent to operate civilian flights in and out of Baldonnel. The obvious concerns that my constituents will have with this proposal will be the possibility of air accidents. We know that a large number of air accidents occur close to airports and if the flight path is over a densely populated area, that poses particular dangers and concerns. There would be a concern about noise if Baldonnel is to be used as a cargo freight airport because the types of aircraft used for cargo and freight operations tend to be heavier, older aircraft and, consequently, they tend to be noisier and more prone to accidents. There is, of course, the concern that people will have in relation to pollution.

I know the Minister has said she intends to clarify the position, and I very much look forward to that clarification because a clear statement of the Government's intentions in relation to Baldonnel is long overdue. If it is, as would appear from the measure being slipped into the miscellaneous portion of this Bill, the Government's intention to have Baldonnel operating on a civilian basis, then the Government should state exactly what it is. The Minister should state what she is planning.

An opportunity should be given to the people and the communities who live in the areas which would be affected by civil operations and a big increase in the level of aviation activity at Baldonnel to have some input into what is being done rather than what I see happening here, that is, a measure being tacked on to the end of the Aviation Regulation Bill which would allow Baldonnel to be civilianised and the Minister to wash her hands of it when there is an outcry over the implications of a large increase in the level of air traffic in and out of Baldonnel.

And to scupper Eircom Park.

I do not know anything about Eircom Park.

I am looking forward to the Minister's response. She has preluded her clarification of this a number of times in the course of my speech. I am prepared to give way to the Minister if she wants to clarify it now.

The provisions are simply and only to lift the impediments in the Irish Aviation Authority Act to enable it carry out its remit of safety at a military aerodrome. In fact, the aerodrome which was in mind was Gormanston airport in County Meath for a flight training school. Apparently the Department of Defence has proposals for a flight training school at Gormanston.

So they are safe in Glasthule.

And in all the other places. If such a school were to be established, the Irish Aviation Authority could not regulate air safety there under the IAA Act as drafted. It is about the proposal to establish a flight training school at Gormanston.

I am greatly disappointed with that clarification. The clarification which I seek is in relation to Baldonnel. The Minister has told me about Gormanston and I am sure the people of Gormanston will be thrilled with what the Minister has had to say.

It is a flight training school.

What is the position in relation to Baldonnel and what is the Government planning in relation to Baldonnel?

We are not having an airport.

There is no point sneaking in proposals in relation to Baldonnel which will have major effects on the people who live along the flight path to and from that airport. I have given the Minister an opportunity to clarify the position. Typical of the Minister, she gave me an explanation not in relation to what I asked about, Baldonnel, but about Gormanston. Perhaps when she has had an opportunity to reflect on what I have had to say and the concerns I have expressed on behalf of the constituents I represent and when she is replying to the debate, she will give a clear unambiguous statement of the Government's plans and intentions in relation to Baldonnel. I am disappointed that when I uniquely gave way to her to allow her an oppor tunity to do so, she avoided that particular question and replied to something about which I had not asked her.

The Government has no plans for development of Baldonnel as a civilianised airport.

More dishonest politics.

You never tell the truth.

We will wait and see.

We are on Second Stage.

I am only trying to protect the interests of my constituents.

The Minister faces a series of problems as Minister for Public Enterprise and the consequences of this Bill will pose their own set of problems for her. The Government has set out its programme contained in the national development plan. We have, as a country, unprecedented opportunities and apparently unlimited resources for Government, at least in the context of the budgetary surplus the Minister for Finance will have this year, yet the Government is intent on a range of issues is to move things from Dublin, including State Departments, industry, outreach colleges and so on and I strongly support that. This city is literally choking to death. I drive to Dublin twice a week and it takes almost as long to get from Castlebar to Heuston Station as from Heuston Station to the Dáil. Any traffic blip causes major problems and much stress and concern for a great number of people, not to mention the loss of business and damage to the economy.

I was in Seoul, South Korea, as Minister for trade and a similar situation arose in what is a much larger city. The involvement of so many people and so much business resulted in constant gridlock with the result that international business pulled out as people did not wish to do business there because it took too long to get from A to B for meetings or whatever. A similar situation is evolving in Ireland.

I have a few suggestions as to how we might deal with this. The Minister is interested in seeing that as many parts of the country as possible share the benefits of the growing economy. It is said that the number of new cars bought in Dublin so far this year would stretch for 100 miles if one placed them bumper to bumper. Last Friday I drove from Belfast to Tipperary and back to Castlebar and it was a constant line of traffic for over 300 miles. That is incredible given the kind of country we used to be and where we now are. Much of this development is for the better but much of it has nothing to do with any quality of life.

International business people or investors involved in high-tech industries or whatever who wish to come to Ireland respectively list access to international airports, third level education and the quality of life to which they aspire as being critical and far more important than money. They are coming here to raise their children with a sense of safety and in the knowledge they will receive an education. However, they also need facilities such as international aviation contact, access to third level research and development facilities and so on.

Knock airport, which is well known to the Minister, is a case in point. As Minister for tourism I attended the Berlin travel trade show, the largest such show in the world, when I was accompanied by representatives of Irish interest groups. One of the things I discovered was that people had never heard of Connacht regional airport – Knock airport. This meant that tour operators were flying fishermen into Shannon who would then have to travel north to Carrick-on-Shannon, Cavan or wherever if they were involved in coarse fishing. Following meetings charter flights now fly directly to Knock from the Continent, saving everyone time, reducing traffic and so on.

Dublin Airport is chaotic – it is one of the worst airports I have been in. I passed through it some time ago returning from England and as a result of the maze of building going on a woman who had difficulty walking but did not require a wheelchair got to a stage where she could not descend a flight of stairs and we had to summon assistance for her. The huge increase in the number of people passing through the airport has meant that the kind of development which should have taken place has not taken place and I know the Minister is dealing with that.

Many people from the greater Connacht area – Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon, Galway as far up as the Minister's town of Athlone – travel to Dublin to fly to London as there are 60 or 70 flights per day.

They could easily go to Knock.

It would be much easier for them to go to Knock. If Aer Lingus has 60 flights per day to Heathrow Airport, surely it should be possible, not for the Government to order it, but to arrange that some consideration should be given to having some of those flights travelling from Knock airport to destinations in England. Such flights would be full every day in both directions as business which travels from this area through Dublin Airport has to return to the region.

I acknowledge the internal situation concerning subsidised flights from Galway to Dublin involving Aer Arann. Ryanair was the saviour of Knock airport in one way but now has a monopoly. It provided flights when Aer Lingus would not do so, but now has it all its own way.

I strongly support deregulation and competition. Today I wrote to the chairman of Aer Lingus about this situation. It is practical to suggest that some of the flights travelling from Dub lin to Manchester, Liverpool or London in particular, should depart from Knock and take a significant number of people from that region rather than bringing them to Dublin.

Does the management want it?

Yes. Discussions are ongoing on the structure and future of the board but this option should be seriously considered.

As politicians we all blame the Government for not doing this or that. I accept that, under EU regulations, the Minister cannot directly assist the airport. However, it is possible for Government to argue that this airport is in the centre of the BMW region and there are other infrastructural necessities which should be prioritised by Government and which it can directly assist. The National Roads Authority has stated it will be 20 years before the N5 connects Longford and Charlestown by which time many new Members will have left. Design offices have been set up and so on. However, we are one year into the national development plan but we have not done anything about this issue as no forward acquisition of land has taken place in many areas. The Government will have a problem spending the allocations given to it over the period of the national plan. Whoever is in Government in three years will probably be in Brussels arguing that we have not been able to spend the money and asking for another three years in which to do so. Government could assist in providing roads, water and other infrastructure for the Knock airport hinterland so it becomes more attractive and so things can happen if the structure of the board is changed or it achieves results or whatever.

I travelled to Dallas some years ago when we brought over a subsidiary of the Perot group – the Alliance Corporation – which carried out a large analysis of the possibilities for Knock and recommended tax designation as one possible catalyst. The then Government introduced a tax designation package for all regional airports. However, it never came to fruition as I would have liked. A contract was recently signed for a fairly substantial development at Knock and that is starting. However, it is in its infancy. Government in general, and Deputy O'Rourke as an influential Minister from the midlands, should be able to progress some of the other infrastructural projects which would make an impact.

One of the current issues which to some extent involves aviation, is the helicopter emergency rescue service – HEMS. I do not know whether the unfortunate people lost off Slyne Head in the past two days or those who died having been airlifted to hospital could have been saved in the first critical hour if a HEMS helicopter with full medical equipment had been able to airlift them. Knock airport would be an ideal centre for such a service. The Department of Health and Children does not give this issue any priority as it argues it has other measures to provide the best health ser vice available. However, money and European backing are available for this service and I would like to think Deputy O'Rourke, in her capacity as a west of Ireland Minister, would back the HEMS concept. For years this House debated locating the air-sea marine rescue service anywhere in the west and, since its introduction, it has been a huge success and has saved many lives. HEMS with full medical equipment could be critical in saving lives in the first critical hour.

Despite having a Minister in Government dealing with the BMW region, despite all the Government's words and the priorities in the White Papers, we still suffer seriously from lack of stability of power and lack of major infrastructure in terms of roads and water. The gas line is now coming in from the Atlantic and the company in question is dealing with Bord Gais in connection with the line to Galway and so on. Companies who buy gas directly from that line may set up their own combined heat and power facilities, which will generate an element of electricity also.

We have built our reputation on being the island of saints and scholars. The saints may have gone, but we still have an opportunity in the scholarly area. I am concerned that people involved in high-tech business, particularly in the United States, who are interested in coming to Ireland, cannot go west of the Shannon because of the power problems and the lack of access to an international airport. The Knock Airport runway is extendible, should that be necessary, but I do not think it is. The Minister has met and spoken with members of the board. Encouragement to meet set targets and objectives could be followed up by Government. I am not sure whether the Minister intends to change the structure of the board. It has been rumoured that the company might be sold.

I have no right to do it.

It is kept in trust for the people of Connacht. Business representatives have told me that, as a commercial entity, it would attract huge moneys to develop it. This is a concept that must be looked at. What we need there are flights and aircraft.

We need people coming and going.

If that happens we will have people coming and going. Between everything, there are distinct possibilities, but Government attention is needed. While direct Government funding cannot be given, the surrounding area should be prioritised by Government and the Minister, in her capacity as Minister for Public Enterprise can do that. I know she has concerns about Dublin, Cork and Shannon. However, an international-size runway in the centre of the BMW region as a hub should be an attraction for industry, provided other facilities that can be provided by Govern ment, are provided. I hope the Minister will play her part visibly in the time ahead.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to make a contribution to the Aviation Regulation Bill, 2000. The aviation industry has played a significant role in the development of our economy over the years. As a Deputy for the Dublin North constituency, I am conscious of the role played by Dublin Airport in the economic life of the people of the area. For many years the airport was the main employer in the region and it continues to be a significant player in that regard.

The Bill provides for the setting up of a commission to deal with a number of areas: the approval of airport and air traffic control charges; the approval of ground handling service providers at airports; the granting of operating licences to air carriers established in Ireland; the administration of the rules governing the allocation of take-off and landing slots at airports; licensing and bonding of travel agents and tour operators.

With regard to the Minister's initiative on the allocation of take-off and landing slots, I note that the representatives of the two main aircraft carriers at Dublin Airport, Aer Lingus and Ryanair, have stated publicly that this initiative was not sought by them. Neither do they deem it to be of significant importance at this stage, given the problems that exist at Dublin Airport. It seems the Minister got this wrong. I look forward to her comments when responding to this aspect of the Bill.

It is for public safety.

I will listen to the Minister when she is summing up. The appointment of the new Aviation Regulator with responsibility for the regulation, among other things, of landing charges at the airport is to be welcomed. It is hoped that this will keep Mr. Michael O'Leary of Ryanair off the airwaves with his outlandish, inaccurate and very selective allegations about the charges being imposed by Aer Rianta up to now. The Minister confirmed that there have been no increases in tariffs since about 1987. I am firmly of the opinion that Mr. O'Leary was deliberately seeking free publicity for his airline at a time when he was well aware that his allegations would not stand up to critical independent analysis. There are other aspects of his whole operation that he should be addressing in the interests of passengers, rather than trying to get cheap publicity on this issue. I hope this will come to an end and that it will not become a political football.

Safety at airports is fundamental for all of us, particularly for staff, customers and the general public working at and using them. Over the years Aer Rianta has set a very high standard with regard to safety. In view of this I am deeply concerned at the situation that has developed at Dublin Airport, particularly over the summer period. I have had numerous telephone calls from staff and passengers concerned at the congestion and the unorthodox methods which had to be taken by passengers in the interests of their own safety. It is unprecedented that a company such as Aer Lingus publicly announced that it was dissatisfied with the safety arrangements at the airport. I am aware that discussions are ongoing between Aer Rianta and Aer Lingus to resolve this problem. I hope it will be resolved as a matter of urgency, but it went on too long before the Minister told the board to get its act together.

Over the years the staff of Aer Rianta, from the bottom up, have always given me the clear impression of being a very contented and co-operative work force. Having spoken with a number of staff members at various levels in recent months, it seems that a major change has taken place. As someone who has always supported Aer Rianta over the years, I am very disturbed at this development, because I do not think it is in the interests of the company. This is something about which the Minister should be concerned. A well-motivated, contented and happy work force will facilitate change in the industry in a more positive way. The departure of senior management in recent years, beginning with the previous chief executive, is observed and referred to by the work force in general when one speaks to workers about the airport and the attitude that prevails there. I also note that the recent senior appointments at our airports have come from outside the existing work force. I am not saying for one moment that a person from outside the country should not have such opportunities just as people from this country have an opportunity of competing for senior positions in companies situated outside Ireland, but there has been a noticeable change of attitude. I want to pose the following questions. Is there a deliberate policy to go over the heads of existing staff for such appointments? Is there a political game being played at board level? As a Deputy for the constituency in which Dublin Airport is situated, I am deeply concerned and I know that I am also expressing the feeling of many of the staff. There is a feeling that things are not as they were, that the relationship between management and workforce is not as it should be.

Is the Deputy talking about Aer Rianta or Aer Lingus?

Aer Rianta in this instance. With the changes which have taken place at senior level, there is a feeling that there is another game being played.

The staff are also extremely anxious about their future in Aer Rianta as the Minister refuses to make a decision about the IPO. As far as I am concerned, and I have looked into this clearly, Aer Rianta should remain a State owned body. Obviously I am not in Government at present but I want to state clearly that there are no circum stances in which I would want to see a situation where the majority shareholding would be let out of the hands of the State. After all, the vast majority of airports in Europe are still in public ownership.

The huge growth in air traffic to and from Dublin Airport has raised public awareness of environmental issues. While acknowledging the need for, and advantages of, an airport in north County Dublin the company must become more aware of environmental issues just as the public are aware of them. We must minimise the impact on the environment and on the families living around the airport. Over the past ten or 15 years due to the noise pollution the quality of the environment has worsened significantly in the area of St. Margaret's and Portmarnock, which are on the existing flight path. I must concede that the problems in St. Margaret's have been reduced considerably by the installation of a new insulation scheme funded by Aer Rianta because I was involved in the discussions myself. However, the problem for the residents in the greater Portmarnock area needs to be assessed and a re-evaluation of the situation must be undertaken as a matter of urgency. Airport noise, as Members will be aware, has been recognised as the most intrusive and disturbing aspect of airport operations. The effect of this on the residents of Portmarnock in particular must be considered therefore in the context of proposals for the construction of a second parallel runway at Dublin Airport.

The Minister must answer the following question. Does Government policy allow passenger numbers to increase indefinitely at the airport? Last year some 12.8 million went through Dublin Airport and this year the projected figure is up to 14 million passengers. Is it envisaged that the number will increase to 20 million or 25 million passengers?

To proceed with the second parallel runway would increase the capacity of the airport by more than a factor of two and would have implications for the 12,000 or 13,000 residents of Portmarnock. In this scenario, two issues would have to be considered – the surface access to the capital and the implications for the residents of Portmarnock.

Surface access continues to be a problem for Dublin Airport. Notwithstanding the improvements which have been made at the roundabout at the main entrance to the airport, with a projected passenger throughput for this year of up to 14 million there are still access problems and delays travelling to and from the city. While accepting that the recent proposals by the Minister and the Government for a long awaited rail network to Dublin Airport, which we were promised on a number of occasions, will become a reality, it would seem that this would not come into operation for at least five or seven years. Even allowing for that, if this second runway, which would increase capacity to 40 million passengers, were put into operation, it would have major implications on the area. The following question must be posed: do we need it, and it is in the interests of the environment and of the people in the area that an airport should be allowed to expand to such a size? For example, there are proposals to build new airports in both Paris and London to deal with the projected growth in air traffic in those cities.

One of the concerns emerging among the people of the greater Portmarnock area is that even at present aircraft taking off on Runway One Zero turn left inside the outer marker. That, in effect, brings them closer to the resident population of Portmarnock and what we are saying is that a directive should be given by the Minister that flights taking off from this runway should not be allowed turn left inside the outer marker. The same applies with aircraft landing at Dublin Airport. At night, cargo aircraft, the level of which must be increasing continually, approach along the Irish coast and turn left on to Runway Two Eight. They are not going out to the outer marker and are approaching Dublin Airport over houses. This is unacceptable and something should be done about it.

A realistic evaluation should be made on the proposal for a second runway at Dublin Airport before it goes any further. I do not think it is necessary. A target capacity of 22 million or 25 million passengers would be acceptable at Dublin Airport, but the implications on the environment and the people of Portmarnock, in particular, of going beyond that to up to 40 million passengers are unacceptable. In addition the implications for access to and from Dublin would not be acceptable. There is a view among the people that it is not desirable and that Aer Rianta should look seriously at another location.

As a spokesperson on older person's issues, I believe that the pension scheme for Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta employees is an utter scandal. We have all heard the Minister's proposals about privatisation and her other proposals for Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta. If the Minister has any interest in the welfare of the staff and the workers who put in so much effort to develop Dublin Airport she should implement a proper pension scheme. The new pension scheme proposals which have emanated from a committee do not take on board the concerns of pensioners who have given 30 or 40 years of their life to Aer Rianta and Aer Lingus. That is unacceptable. Improvements in the scheme are envisaged for existing staff. The Minister should put down a marker with the Government at a time of unparalleled growth and finances. Given that the Minister for Finance has more money available to him than ever before, that issue could be dealt with adequately.

The issue of Baldonnel has arisen on a couple of occasions, particularly in the context of the proposed Eircom Park stadium. I have raised this matter with the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation on various occasions. There is a strong view that the Government is using the Department of Defence to ensure Eircom Park does not get off the ground.

I have received representations from SIPTU about the definition of "airport users" and about sections 10, 32 and 33. I have no doubt these will be taken on board by our spokesperson, Deputy Stagg, on Committee Stage.

I wish to share time with Deputy Reynolds.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The reason I am on my feet is that a major debate is taking place about the airline structure. I listened to Deputy Ryan and I compliment him on his contribution on Dublin Airport, what is happening in relation to passenger numbers and the dispute between Ryanair and Aer Lingus, where one is of the view that there is not enough room for the other. We do not have that problem in the west where there is no shortage of airports – if the Government has its way there will be more airports in the west.

I am not opposed to any development in the west. I come from the west and support any development there. I have spoken on many occasions in the Dáil about the inadequate infrastructure in the west – for example, the road from Longford to Charlestown and the rail service which was in dispute for ten weeks during the summer. We still do not have a midday train to Westport. Passengers travelling to Dublin do not know whether they will travel to Athlone by bus or train. In the evening they do not know whether they will be on a bus or an ass and cart, or how they will travel home to the west. Because of a new arrangement which has been agreed, we are told the problems have been solved. What has that to do with aviation?

We have a famous airport at Knock which is mentioned in song and in folklore and has caused major controversy. Successive Governments have not played their part in relation to the infrastructure for Knock Airport. Tax designation was provided for by the last Government. That airport has waited for many years for approval from the Department of the Environment and Local Government for water and sewerage. There are acres of land which could be developed. This could help the people in the west. There is no proper water and sewerage scheme. What exists is a well. I am pleased the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government is present. Perhaps he will take note of this and his Department will give approval for the water and sewerage scheme for Knock.

The Deputy should confine his remarks to the Bill before the House.

The Government ignored the problems at Knock. The Minister's Department is responsible.

A soft land.

There are airports at Knock, Galway, Shannon and Sligo. The Government has lands in Oranmore. A political dispute is ongoing between the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, and the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Fahey. One is attempting to take credit for what is taking place in Galway city with a view to getting extra votes although the party has three seats. Given what is happening, I do not know whether the party will have one seat because the people are getting annoyed about one competing with the other.

There is a new proposal now. The Department of Defence has land in Oranmore. This morning the Minister told a colleague of mine she would play her part if the land was made available to have a third regional airport in the west. The airport at Knock is dying on its feet, Shannon Airport is experiencing major difficulties because of the Shannon stop-over and tourism has been affected. Denis O'Brien who made millions of pounds from telephones is about to invest £25 million. He got enough soft State money from the telephones and he hopes the State will provide free land, that the Government will grant-aid the airport and he will invest his £25 million. Five years down the road he will sell on and have £100 million to buy more airports elsewhere.

It would be outrageous for any Government to assist, grant-aid or play any part in putting a third airport in the west. The BMW region qualifies for Objective One status. Regardless of whether Galway likes it, we are all part of the one region, the west region. In Galway there is the regional hospital, educational facilities and major investment in jobs. I hope what was done to Dublin for the past 30 years will not be done to Galway. It was thought there would never be enough infrastructure, jobs, buildings and cars in Dublin. Since all those facilities have been provided the people of Dublin have been gridlocked and an attempt is being made to decentralise Departments to ease the gridlock.

The Government wants to support a third airport because there is an investor who got £25 million. Government agencies should not help individuals to put a third airport in place which would finish off Knock Airport. I accept there are problems at Knock Airport. I ask the Minister to agree to meet the five TDs and Senators representing County Mayo immediately to see if the Government can put in place some measure to assist Knock Airport. If that does not happen, Knock Airport will be unable to survive.

If an industrialist came to this country seeking grant aid from the IDA to set up a biscuit factory and there was an existing biscuit factory in Galway, Mayo or Shannon, he would not get that grant aid. Giving grant aid in that case would amount to assisting him in putting somebody else out of business. I cannot understand how the Government can encourage such a situation in relation to airports by making available land which is owned by the taxpayer and under the control of the Department of Defence. I put down a parliamentary question in this regard yesterday to which I received a hidden, not a truthful, reply. The Government could not answer the question.

I have nothing against Galway but I oppose a third airport in the region. Galway is one hour from Knock and one hour from Shannon. There is no need for another international airport. However, there is a need for support, grant aid, infrastructure and anything else that can be done to encourage other carriers to come to Knock. At present, Ryanair is in Knock while Aer Lingus provides flights once a week. The Minister should put pressure on the national carrier to provide services to Knock. During the summer emigrants complained to me that certain airlines were advertising lower prices for flights into Knock but when they inquired from the airlines or travel agents they discovered that those prices were booked up. Instead of getting the £75 or £80 fare, these people had to pay £170 and more.

Deputy Ring has one minute left as he is sharing time with his colleague.

I am anxious to look after my colleague. He is a west of Ireland man and I hope he will support my call. What is needed for Knock Airport is investment and commitment from Government. We want that airport to survive and do not want another airport competing with it. That would be political madness and a waste of resources. If the Government wishes to help the west, there are many infrastructure projects it can fund and I hope it will do that. I urge the Minister to meet the Members of the Oireachtas from County Mayo to see how Knock Airport can be supported and encouraged.

I thank Deputy Ring for sharing his time. The Bill has much to recommend it. The Minister stated that the proposed commission will take responsibility for the approval of airport, air and traffic control charges, approval of ground handling service providers at airports, the granting of operating licences to air carriers established in Ireland, the administration of the rules governing the allocation of take-off and landing slots at airports and licensing and bonding of travel agents and tour operators. They are worthwhile tasks for the commission.

There have been difficulties in recent years with regard to Ryanair, airport charges at Dublin Airport and the difficulties Ryanair is experiencing with the provision of ground handling services. It is good policy to transfer those issues from the Department of Public Enterprise to the remit of the commission, which can give them particular attention.

Nobody envisaged the increase in air traffic at Dublin Airport in recent years. I listened to Deputy Ryan speak about Aer Rianta and its role at Dublin Airport. I have no difficulty with Aer Rianta being involved in providing sales and ser vices at Dublin Airport but we should look at the situation in a new light. The Government has a great deal of extra funding available to it and given that this country has now become a commercial enterprise, there is an opportunity for the Government and semi-State bodies to get out of running profitable airports. This Government or a future Government should seriously consider selling Dublin Airport to a commercial body. It can pay its way now so there is no need for Government intervention.

The Government should also consider providing another commercial airport at Baldonnel. Air traffic will continue to grow rapidly and two airports are needed to service the amount of air traffic coming to Dublin. All Members have been in Dublin Airport recently. It is becoming more like a jungle. It is more difficult to get on the aeroplane or to get parking. Land is also a difficulty. The provision of a commercially run second airport at Baldonnel would be worthwhile for many reasons.

The Government, however, should involve itself in the administration of regional airports. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Ring, with regard to Knock Airport and the other regional airports. I represent the Sligo-Leitrim constituency which has a fine airport at Strandhill in Sligo. However, it is always in financial trouble. We have had numerous meetings with different Ministers seeking extra funding to ensure the survival of that airport. The service that airport could provide if proper funding were made available to it would be most welcome. It could have an important role by providing an extra element of infrastructural development in the region.

We have not succeeded in bringing large industries into Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal for a number of years. One of the reasons for that is that the area does not have a good airport. The Government was unable to provide the money for it. However, the Government is now able to give money to Dublin Airport. The commercial sector would willingly run Dublin Airport and run it successfully so the money the Government would save could and should be spent on the airports in Sligo, Knock, Waterford, Cork and Shannon.

Shannon Airport has been experiencing difficulty since the removal of the transatlantic stopover. However, a number of carriers such as Virgin, Ryanair and Aeroflot have started services at Shannon. The Government should change its thinking and realise that money must be spent on regional airports and air infrastructure rather than on Dublin Airport, which can survive commercially. That is the extraordinary role the Government could play. It would require a diverse and brave policy decision. I hope my view will be conveyed to the Minister and that she will consider adopting this attitude and provide much needed funding for regional airports. Industry will not be brought into the regions if there is no proper airport structure.

It seems illogical, as Deputy Ring has said, that we are now talking about dispersing large numbers of civil servants throughout the country, taking them away from the Dublin and eastern region and not putting the infrastructure in place which would help bring large industries into these regions. On numerous occasions when industrialists visited the north-west region they found that apart from the road structure, which is being improved slowly but surely at present, the rail structure, airport structure and air navigation structure in the region was extremely poor. The staff who work at regional airports, particularly Strandhill airport, work very hard. It is a day-to-day battle for them to survive. It is difficult for them to get airlines to use the airport. Aer Lingus has withdrawn from Sligo and there is not a sufficient air service to Dublin. This is a result of the lack of Government aid and money. If the Government can look at the whole aspect of ridding itself of the airports that are profitable and put in place the necessary funding for the regional airports, it will have done an excellent day's work.

During the past 15 years a network of five modern regional airports has been developed to serve the most remote coastal areas in Donegal, Sligo, Galway and Kerry, together with Waterford in the south-east and Knock International Airport. These airports have proved to be of great significance as an element of vital transport infrastructure to support social and economic development in these peripheral regions. I agree with Deputy Ring that major investment is needed in the regional airports, particularly Knock airport. This goes back to the argument that if one has two cars one will need two sets of tyres. There is the question of additional airports rather than proper investment in existing airports, which raises certain questions.

The principal function of the commission will be to regulate airport charges and aviation terminal service charges. However, I would like to refer to the role and growth of regional airports. Aer Lingus is preparing for the flotation of the company which will be similar to that of the Eircom debacle when many investors got burnt. Aer Lingus fails to understand that the regional airports, which are considered the poor relation, are regarded by the tourism and industrial development agencies as crucial in both attracting and retaining inward investment in disadvantaged areas. Modern high-tech and information technology industries are unlikely to go to areas which do not have a high level of easy access to overseas markets. An EU project carried out in 1991 on regional airport development and promotion stated:

Airports assist the economic development of Europe's regions, by providing the infrastructure which enhances transport and communication links to other regions and the major conurbations This function is particularly important when the region is on the periphery of Europe. The existence and success of a regional airport is increasingly critical for the development and economic success of a region as a whole.

The amount of money allocated in the national development plan to regional airports is very disappointing. I speak from a Sligo perspective and were it not for the huge commitment of the staff in that region, the airport would not be nearly as successful as it is. The staff at that airport work tirelessly to provide the service but the funding provided by the State is very disappointing.

The most important factor in the success of our regional airports to date has been the provision of regular scheduled flights, linking the regions to Europe, through Dublin and the UK. It is of the utmost importance that these services are fully maintained and that all the regional airports are provided with the highest possible standard of internal services. The real problem is that Aer Lingus had a contract with Sligo airport and this has now been replaced by Aer Arann which is providing a very good service. It is using a Shorts plane which has a non-pressurised cabin. If Aer Lingus had a choice it would offload all the regional airports to Aer Arann or a similar carrier. It is tidying up its back garden before flotation and considers the regional airports a hindrance rather than profitable. If Aer Arann is to take on the role of Aer Lingus provider, it is important that it is given assistance to upgrade its planes to pressured cabins because the quality of travel in non-pressurised cabins is considerably different.

Regarding the long-term viability of the regional airports, it is important to remember and draw attention to the detailed report put forward by Deputy Seamus Brennan on a policy for the regional airports in a major speech in Galway before the last election. He stated at length that when in government his party would support regional airports. His speech at that time showed a positive appreciation of the importance of these facilities in terms of modern transport needs and the level of support which is needed if they are to play their part in social and economic development. It is sad that many of the recommendations in his report at that time which would be of significant benefit to the regions, particularly in relation to air traffic control costs and rates, have still to be implemented. The regional airports are paying high rates at present. They have received no assistance from the State and air traffic control charges are huge. It is disappointing that none of the recommendations in Deputy Brennan's major policy statement prior to the 1997 election has been implemented.

I hope the importance of regional air transport facilities will be highlighted further. The Bill does not deal with these issues but it is clearly evident at present that there is a huge lack of investment in regional airports. They are operated in co-operation with the local authority and receive only a subvention grant from the State. Given that we are talking about providing a service and developing the BMW regions, the 13 counties, including Donegal and Sligo airports, it is very disappointing that there is no mention in the development plan of airports or where the development will take place.

I have spoken to the Minister on the issue of Sligo airport which offers a token service. Before the flotation of Aer Lingus, the Minister should ensure that the major carrier in the country fulfils its initial obligation to develop the regions. I believe it is offloading its responsibilities and pulling out of all the regional airports. There was a big debate this week when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated that Aer Lingus would not be pulling out of Kerry Airport. That is a result of political pressure. However, it has pulled out of Sligo and Donegal airports and the service is now being provided by Aer Arann which is a competent carrier. The State is getting off extremely lightly because it is not providing a sufficient subvention to maintain the grants. Sligo Airport needs huge investment for infrastructural development. It has to buy a new fire engine which will cost in excess of £100,000 and there is no guarantee that the Government will provide that funding.

We must be very careful in relation to the flotation of Aer Lingus following the huge damage to the novice investor in Eircom. People will not be as gullible on this occasion having been burnt so badly previously by the huge fanfare announcement. Aer Lingus is pre-empting this by offloading casualties. When the Aer Lingus prospectus is promoted the company will not carry any liabilities.

There is an obligation on all of us to ensure the State invests in the regions. The Government has failed dismally. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Brennan, stated in 1997 that in Government Fianna Fáil would revitalise regional airports but this has not happened. Why has this not happened? Deputy Brennan made a speech in Galway where he said that he would invest in regional airports, provide rates remission and greatly reduce air traffic control costs and that there would be a better service.

Sligo has only a token service. Business people need more than one morning and late night return service. Knock International Airport, which was the brainchild of Monsignor Horan, was a brilliant concept but, unfortunately, it has been little developed. The western corridor should be developed to attract people into the west. Knock International Airport can cater for jumbo jets but only one lands every second day. There is traffic congestion on our roads and major problems at Dublin Airport. Why not divert a large number of flights to Knock Airport? People from the midlands use the airport.

The debate has centred on the 14 million people passing through Dublin Airport annually. There is an international airport in the west which is breaking even but it has capacity to take more aeroplanes. There would be no traffic control problems as aeroplanes would not be landing every five minutes. This reflects bad management and the debate about developing a second international airport, as Deputy Ring correctly pointed out, is similar to the economics of duplication. I have a colleague who will promote the concept but with regard to the duplication of investment, one must maintain what one has. If one has two cars, one needs two sets of tyres. If a swimming pool is provided it must be maintained. Sadly, the Government has dismally failed to invest in Knock Airport and regional airports in general. Its record on such investment has been a sheer disaster.

Billions of pounds will be spent in the national development plan but there is little encouragement in terms of the growth of regional airports. There is no reason people could not fly directly from Sligo Airport in a pressurised cabin rather than from Dublin. There is a token feeder service into an already choked system. Aer Lingus has walked away from that contract and the small aeroplanes which were used to service it will originate from Dublin, adding to the chaos that exists.

The Bill addresses landing charges and so on. However, it facilitates Aer Lingus to produce a glossy prospectus as it approaches flotation. The 500,000 people who were caught by the Eircom flotation will not be easily fooled on this occasion as they will not be novices. It is sad the Government deems it necessary to hive off regional airports with little or no investment. The Government should at least provide major subvention to such airports so that they can offer a service to which people in the regions are justly entitled.

Knock International Airport is a massive facility. It is a downright disgrace that the tax zone designated at the airport has not been fully utilised. There is no major investment there. If it were not for the airport's board it would not be viable. The Government has failed regional airports, especially Knock International Airport.

I wish to share my time with Deputy McCormack.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I represent Dublin South-West, which includes the Baldonnel area. A number of my Labour Party colleagues have contributed to this debate, including our spokesperson, Deputy Stagg. I do not have expertise in terms of the general purview of the Bill and I do not purport to follow the wider argument. However, I am dismayed that it is impossible to drag out of the Minister why section 46 has been included. It relates to removing the legal impediment in terms of military aerodromes being freed for commercial or civil activity. It is impossible to find out from the Minister why it has intruded into the legislation. There is a huge campaign demonstrating enormous concern in my constituency about its implications and where it is going. I wish to focus on this narrow area.

The Bill has a wider significance in terms of the manifest commercial, strategic, economic, industrial importance of Ireland's airport infrastructure. I am concerned at the contributions of Deputies Ring, Perry and others regarding the future of Knock International Airport. It is extraordinary that its potential in terms of attracting industry to its immediate environs has not been exploited and nobody is managing it from the point of view of the Government or politically driving it or seeking to attract the industries that surround every international airport in the world.

It is a matter of concern that there is a hands-off approach and when one gets submissions from various interest groups – I am not sure of their credibility – advocating the creation of a new city in the west one wonders about it when we cannot seem to attract the industries which ought to be easily attractable to an airport such as Knock because one of the primary concerns of international mobile capital is that it has access to an airport. It is a pity nobody is promoting and driving Knock Airport.

One wonders about the Government's approach to Baldonnel because aside from section 46, South Dublin County Council recently decided to give planning approval for Eircom Park at Tallaght. There was an extraordinary intervention into that debate by the Department of Defence. It decided to review air safety procedures and to lodge an objection to the planning application based on what it called "inner horizontal zones". This intrusion, if it were implemented, would mean the lowering of the Naas Road in certain areas and the knocking of Rathcoole and Saggart. It is virtually an absolute veto on further development of any height in the area.

I take it as a cynical intervention with the Department of Defence being manipulated by the Department of the Taoiseach to facilitate the "Bertie Bowl" proposal at Abbotstown. A sporting organisation wants to build its own stadium and all it is seeking is planning permission to do so. However, the Taoiseach of the day says, "No, you must not do that, you must come on board with my monument in Abbotstown", which the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation told the committee recently would cost £550 million. Imagine what that sum could do for all the athletic, football and other sporting clubs around the country. It is now costing £550 million according to the Minister for sport and fun. It seems the "Bertie Bowl" will turn out like Mr. Tony Blair's dome. It has similar potential. At a time when a rapprochement is in prospect between Croke Park and the rugby authorities, I cannot see how this city of one million people, and a country of 3.5 million, will support the "Bertie Bowl". That is a discussion for another day, however.

On the issue of section 46, there has been widespread concern for some time in the area I represent about the civilianisation of Baldonnel. There was considerable agitation and concern following the intervention by my constituency colleague, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on the last occasion this matter was discussed here. I will quote from a major document which I would like to have time to put on the record of the House, although I do not. It is from the Baldonnel liaison group which states:

The fact that the Minister for Public Enterprise in presenting her Bill gave up much of her time to allow her nephew, Deputy Conor Lenihan, T.D., who represents the constituency surrounding Baldonnel, to make a strong speech supporting the proposed changes to Baldonnel military aerodrome, is especially enlightening and clearly an expression of views on local people's concerns.

I read Deputy Conor Lenihan's text afterwards. He apparently made a strong speech supporting the removal of this impediment which will allow the civilianisation of Baldonnel aerodrome and its ultimate development as a major alternative airport to Dublin.

I would agree that in an ideal world there would be, in industrial terms, a good argument for that because west Dublin is a major hub of industry. Indeed, at one time I was minded to contemplate the prospect of some private aircraft landing there, if it were economically feasible. However, it is not an ideal world. The flight path into Baldonnel covers one of the most densely populated areas in the country. I do not think the Government appreciates the widespread concern that is being raised by various residents' associations and other groups campaigning against this proposal. For example, in a document I received recently the residents' associations concerned drew my attention to the implications such a development would have for Tallaght, Fortunestown, Springfield, Belgard, Jobstown, Killenarden, Watergate, West Park, Tymon North, Mayberry, Millbrook Lawns, Old Bawn, Rathcoole, Saggart, Newcastle, Clondalkin, Firhouse and Templeogue, areas which are all in my constituency. It will have greater and more acute implications for some of these areas than others. There is genuine concern about the manner in which this is being handled by the Government and the fact that the Government will not come clean to say what is the purpose of section 46.

Earlier I saw on the monitor the exchanges between my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, and the Minister. He could not extract from the Minister what she intends this provision for. She will not admit that its purpose is to facilitate the civilianisation of Baldonnel. It is not acceptable that we are back in this House after all the tribunals and all the experience we have garnered in recent years to find ourselves considering legislation the purpose of which is obscure, or which is being deliberately concealed by the Minister of the day.

I recall a Bill before this House to raise the limit for export credit insurance to £500 million without knowing that its purpose was to facilitate one particular operator for one particular product. That was a major Bill with the most signifi cant ramifications but the sponsoring Minister never told us that its purpose was just to facilitate Goodman.

We are now discussing legislation but we cannot find out from the Minister why she is removing this statutory impediment or what its purpose is. Is consideration being given to changing the position set out by her predecessor on 24 January 1996? On that date he dealt with the economics of having two airports for Dublin. He said:

Two airports for Dublin would duplicate infrastructure and facilities. The entry costs of adopting Baldonnel would be high. Airlines could well be reluctant to transfer to a secondary location because of the inability to offer an integrated service and the absence of the hubbing opportunities that are available through Dublin airport. The coming on stream of the Baldonnel project would coincide with the planned abolition of intra-EU duty free sales from 1999 and will have adverse implications for all airports.

In other words, the economics of Baldonnel would be problematic from the outset. That was the position then. If that position has changed there is an obligation on the Government to tell the House that it has changed. Let us have a discussion in the local community with people who have genuine concerns about public safety in particular. There are other issues of noise and pollution also. Let us have an open and honest discussion about them rather than trying to bring in this by subterfuge and then down the road advancing it a step further. Meanwhile, the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, will have gone and she will have left the people of my constituency like the Eircom shareholders, feeling very cheated.

I note in her speech the Minister said the Bill's primary purpose is to establish a new regulatory body to be known as the Commission for Aviation Regulation, which will carry out the regulation of charges levied at Irish airports, both by Aer Rianta and those levied by the Irish Aviation Authority in respect of services rendered to aircraft for take-off and approach. Like Deputy Rabbitte, I do not know what else the Minister is trying to achieve by this Bill. I cannot figure out exactly what is going on. I will use the time remaining to me, however, to make the case for my own area.

It is obvious from the debate that investment for regional airports is not forthcoming from the Government. In the Connacht scenario there seems to be no commitment from the Government to investment in Knock international airport. I do not know what the Government's thinking is in this regard. Perhaps it is a deliberate policy of the Government to await other development options in the Connacht region. As the area I represent, Galway city, is the capital of Connacht, there is no justifiable reason why full-scale airport services should not be available in that area. Galway is believed to be the fastest growing city in western Europe. It is the capital of the west and in the past 20 years the population has increased threefold. Employment is expanding in the city and Galway itself is expanding. There is a genuine case for the development of airports in that area and that debate is currently taking place. The waters have been muddied slightly by the fact that the Ministers who represent the area are not of one mind with regard to the direction that should be taken. I support the case made by the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, for the creation of a new airport at Oranmore.

Galway is unique in that no other city in Ireland has up to 700 acres of land in public ownership in close proximity to the city. This amount is far in excess of what is required for a full international airport. During the summer, Galway Corporation, of which I am a member, made a decision on a proposal put forward by the city manager. The corporation owns 80 acres of land in Oranmore which are adjacent to the 500 acres owned by the Department of Defence. Galway Corporation agreed to make its 80 acres of land available for airport facilities in Oranmore.

There is a small regional airport in Carnmore and Galway Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which developed the airport and manage it, brought the facility as far as it could. They are now restricted by land and other matters and they cannot take on the responsibility of developing a full-size airport at Oranmore. However, there are people in Galway who will take on that responsibility. I am encouraged by recent replies I received to parliamentary questions from the Minister concerned and the Minister for Defence about the possible availability of the land at Oranmore. The Department of Defence said in a reply to a parliamentary question earlier this year that it is actively considering the idea of relocating from Oranmore. It has a firing range on its lands there, but, according to the Minister, it is actively considering relocating from Oranmore. This would leave the 500 acres available for a full-size airport for Galway.

Oranmore is a unique location from the point of view of the availability of the site. It is also unique in that it is located on the eastern side of Galway city and would serve Galway city and the surrounding area and counties adequately. It is serviced by first class national primary routes and it is also unique from the point of view of an airport in that it is serviced by the railway.

Many international companies are located in Galway and employ a large number of people. The management of these companies, which in the main are American, are looking for full airport facilities in Galway. This would enable them to fly directly to their businesses. The development of full international airport services in Galway is almost essential from that point of view.

An airport would also help to open up Galway and the west to tourism development. One would be in close proximity to the Burren, Connemara and Galway city. There are fine international golf courses within five or six miles of the proposed site for an airport in Oranmore. It would open up a whole new tourism industry for Galway in addition to the benefits it would create in terms of the maintenance of services for existing industries. Many of the Galway based American companies produce high-tech health care products. These must be transported in the shortest possible time to their destinations.

I want the Ministers in Galway to sort themselves out and to all support the one project. I also want the Minister to outline her plans with regard to facilitating or supporting the idea of full airport services in Galway.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. The Fine Gael Party will not oppose the Bill, but I have great doubts about the thrust of the legislation. It will establish a commission that will have the power to collect funds. It will transfer an onus from Aer Rianta to a more independent body, but I am not sure that is the most valuable or useful work an aviation authority could do.

The biggest problem in Ireland is that there is no clear aviation policy. No one has developed a proper policy. When the Minister decided to introduce this Bill, I thought its powers in section 7 would encompass much more than they do. I listened to the contributions of Deputies on all sides about the need to provide airports in their constituencies or region. However, there is an economic limit to the establishment of airports. As it stands, I doubt that Shannon Airport is viable. It was the main international airport established by Seán Lemass when he was Minister, on poor land at Shannon. He gave it particular protection through sole transatlantic status and that worked well in economic terms for the region. It also worked well for Aer Lingus, the national airline.

Since then, life has grown enormously. Economic activity is at a frenzy and the volume of movement of goods and people has increased greatly. The result is greater demand for air transport. The problem in Ireland, however, is not the airports themselves but access to them. If the Minister was serious about an aviation policy, the new commission would develop such a policy on a continual basis for the future rather than being committed to aviation regulation.

The aviation industry changes rapidly. There have been a number of serious accidents recently, including the incident where a supersonic aircraft came down. It had 30 years of service but its safety has been called into question. There are many different aspects to aviation policy that should be developed in Ireland and I regret the Minister has not taken the opportunity to address this area in the Bill, which is limited.

I must refer to my constituency and Shannon Airport. Shannon Airport has suffered immensely as a result of the change in its transatlantic status. The number of tourists from the USA who disembarked at Shannon Airport was substantial. They kept many people in employ ment in the west because they spent as many as four or five days in Killarney and the south or in Connemara, Donegal and the north-west. However, the change has meant that most Americans arriving in Dublin spend a day there and then take a day tour to Killarney before returning. This is an economic loss for the country. The previous system worked effectively and was an economic guarantee for the west.

Added to that difficulty is that the National Roads Authority must meet certain criteria to determine which national primary or secondary roads it will develop. It says it is bound by economic criteria laid down by the EU Commission. If our Ministers – it must have been Fianna Fáil Ministers – agreed to that system of infrastructural development, particularly for our roads, with the EU Commission they were wrong.

The force of development is like a wheel in that every spoke leads into Dublin. I was not aware that people are afraid of the Baldonnel development. However, it seems the Minister will surreptitiously assist in the development of Baldonnel airport, despite the objections of the people living beside it.

However, I am more concerned about Shannon Airport. It is a fine, safe and accessible airport. Deputy Lowry was the first Minister to invest in Shannon in 25 years. The new building there is a credit to the airport. We need new ideas and people with greater initiatives to take up the challenge and redevelop Shannon Airport.

As regards the expansion of the aviation industry, we should limit ourselves to our economic strengths. Limerick and the mid-west, for example, are not able to support Shannon Airport economically. If the Bill increases charges, will the charges imposed on Shannon Airport be kept separate? Will the Minister give instructions to the commission about when these airport charges will be imposed? Will a portion of the overhead from the conglomerate in Dublin Airport, where huge numbers of people are employed, be used to keep Dublin aviation going? That will add to the charges. As far as the history of airport development and aviation is concerned, Shannon Airport made a major financial contribution to the ongoing costs of Dublin Airport when it could not meet them.

The Minister seems to have a flippant approach to aviation. I am disappointed the Minister is not in the House because I wanted to challenge her about a comment she made, although I do not know if it is true. A meeting was held some time ago in Shannon because Ryanair wanted to fly into Shannon and it put pressure on the Minister to give it special concessions. A number of people made contributions but the Minister or her representative did not attend the meeting, although they were invited by Shannon Chamber of Commerce, which is an independent body. The Minister made inquiries about the meeting and she was told by someone in the Clare area that the same grouses were at it.

Members on all sides of the House, irrespective of political persuasion, have long been concerned about the continued viability of Shannon Airport. The Minister has visited it periodically and has tried to ensure employees that everything is rosy in the garden. However, if everything is rosy and up to scratch, why is there a disproportionate rate of growth in traffic and passenger numbers at Shannon? If the Minister's policy was working, surely the increase in passenger numbers at Shannon would be the same as those at Dublin Airport? As I outlined earlier, the services are available and there is easy access to it. Passengers must travel miles of corridors in Dublin Airport. People are running hither and thither and doors have signs apologising for the renovations.

Surely the Aviation Regulation Bill should require Aer Rianta, which is providing a public service, to plan properly rather than allowing it to hit and miss? Why is it not included in the functions of the commission that it should supervise what is happening at the airports? Who will supply the information about these charges to the commission? Will it be like the health boards, for example, which got money to help severely handicapped people this year, yet up to 70% of it was spent on administration? The Minister for Health and Children thought he was great when he announced he was giving £4 million to the unfortunate handicapped people. Yet less than £600,000 of that is given directly to handicapped people. The same will be the case with the commission. There is no evidence of any structure or accountability in the Bill. It is a slobber from the Minister. I do not expect anything else from her because that is all she does.

I hope our spokesperson will table a number of amendments on Committee Stage. Apart from making fleeting public relations visits to my constituency and to Shannon Airport, I ask the Minister to announce the expansion of the role of the Irish Aviation Authority, the aviation regulator and the commission and to formulate a national policy so that people can make a contribution to the future of aviation. I know people in Shannon Airport are committed to the promotion of Shannon. If further substantial growth does not take place, I do not know how they will be able to meet all their commitments.

Debate adjourned.