State Airports Bill 2004: Report and Final Stages.

Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 18 and 19 are related to amendment No. 1. Amendment No. 15 is an alternative to amendment No. 14. Amendments Nos. 1, 14, 15, 18 and 19 may be taken together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 10, after "AS" to insert "ÚDARÁS AERFORT BHAILE ÁTHA CLIATH, OR IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE".

Given all the obvious negatives surrounding this break-up proposal it is difficult to settle for amendments at all. The entire Bill is ridden with flaws. I propose to amend the Long Title of the Bill by way of prioritising the Irish version. I move to have the title Údaráas Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath inserted into line 10, page 5. This may seem of little consequence considering the urgent issues to be addressed in this Bill yet it needs to be looked at because there seems to be a trend whereby legislation is emerging in the English format. It is bad enough to see the company gradually being privatised without also having it anglicised. I propose that, where the English version of the title appears before the Irish version throughout the Bill, the order be reversed.

Seo ceann des na rudaí atá ag tarlú go rialta anois i reacttaíocht an Rialtais. Tá teidil Bhéarla á gcur ar gach sort boird agus údaráis Stáit atá á bhunú. Tá an Rialtas ag tabhairt tús áite i gcónaí don mBéarla agus an tarna háit don Ghaeilge, in ainneoin gurb í an Ghaeilge an teanga náisiúnta. Ní teidil Bhéarla iad Aer Rianta nó Aer Lingus. Ní thugtar "the fleet of the air" ar an aerlíne. Is trua go bhfuil an Rialtas ag dul sa treo seo.

Má fhéachtar ar na boird a bhfuil an Rialtas tar éis bunú le déanaí feictear teidil Bhéarla go mór chun tosaigh orthu. Níl teidil Ghaeilge ar an NRA nó ar an PIAB, mar shampla. Sa chás seo tá an Rialtas ag iarraidh go mbeadh teideal Bhéarla chun tosaigh arís. Sin meon an Rialtais i leith na Gaeilge.

Amendment No. 15 proposes the insertion of, "after the Cork and Shannon appointed days". While I oppose the entire Bill, if the Minister goes ahead with it, to change the name of Aer Rianta to the Dublin Airport Authority prior to the setting up of the Cork and Shannon authorities does not make sense and leads to ambiguity. I suggest that the changes to the status and the name would not occur until the bigger issues are dealt with, namely, the Minister's problems with how to effect the de-merger and the critical financial problems associated with this. Therefore, I suggest that Aer Rianta would remain intact and maintain its existing status and name until such time as the Minister is in a position to effect the full break-up.

On amendment No. 15, it makes sense to leave the title in place. Many of the Minister's colleagues and many Members on this side of the House are concerned with the fact that the Dublin Airport Authority will be in control of the management and operation of both Shannon and Cork airports for the next eight to nine months. This is especially so given the structure the Minister now proposes, whereby a board will be established in Dublin, the responsibility of which is for the operation, management and development of Dublin Airport. While nobody disagrees in principle with having a board dedicated solely to the development of Dublin Airport, it gives rise to significant concern that a board which is appointed to do one job will also be in charge in the short term of the management and operation of both Cork and Shannon airports. It is within the capability of the board to impede any development that could take place at both Cork and Shannon airports in the intervening period.

These points were discussed at length on Committee Stage. I have put down similar amendments, amendments Nos. 16 and 20, and why they have not been grouped with these amendments, I do not know. However, we should be discussing an overall authority which will own and control the assets while the day-to-day management is carried out by three independent boards. The board of Aer Rianta put forward similar proposals to the Minister in this regard and it would be an eminently sensible approach at this time, given that the Minister cannot or will not bring forward any case to support the Bill.

As Deputy Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael, stated earlier, it is to put the cart before the horse. The Minister is trying to bring forward the legislation and then support the argument at a later date. We are engaged in a pointless exercise. I ask the Minister to accept Deputy Shortall's amendment No. 15.

I do not know why there would be any difficulty in regard to amendment No. 1 tabled by Sinn Féin. It is mainly a technical issue and I do not foresee any difficulty in including the Irish language.

However, the key issue is the fact that Dublin Airport will operate Cork and Shannon airports. This situation could last a considerable time if we do not have the Cork and Shannon appointed days next May, which is not guaranteed under the Bill and about which concerns have been raised. What would happen next June or July if reports are submitted by the boards of Cork and Shannon airports stating they do not want to go it alone? There is no detail on this issue and the Minister has not commented on it to date.

Ní aontaím leis na leasuithe seo. Aontaím go bhfuil an Ghaeilge thar a bheith tábhachtach agus gur fearr, de ghnáth, teidil agus ainmneacha a bheith i nGaeilge. Ach go praiticiúil, is é an t-ainm Béarla a úsáidtear de ghnáth agus cuirtear ant-ainm a úsáidtear de ghnáth chun tosaigh. Sin an caighdeán i gcúrsaí dlí. Ach, is féidir an dá theideal a chur isteach, mar a tharlaíonn i logainmneacha ar fud na tíre.

I am greatly supportive of the concept of using Irish titles. The Long Title refers to the Dublin Airport Authority. If this was translated as Údarás Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath, it would make the title more difficult to deal with in international circumstances. However, in so far as I have the authority, I am prepared to instruct the authorities that where the Dublin Airport Authority is mentioned, Údarás Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath would also be shown prominently in the same way place names are shown on signs throughout the country. I am prepared to lay this down, in so far as I have the authority, because I am very sympathetic to this cause.

With regard to Deputy Shortall's point on the commencement, amendment No. 15 would seek to delay the renaming of Aer Rianta until after the Cork and Shannon appointed days. This is contrary to the policy objectives of the Bill in that it changes the sequence that is a critical part of the legislation. I would not agree to change the sequence given that it is so finely balanced.

Dá mba mhian leis an Aire d'fhéadfadh sé an t-ainm ar fad a fhágáil mar Aer Rianta. Ní gá teideal eile a úsáid. Níl deacracht ar bith i Moscó nó in aon áit eile ar domhain na focail "Aer Rianta" a úsáid.

Chomh maith leis sin, tá ainm branda ann agus tá an tAire chun é a athrú. Cén fáth nach Aer Rianta Bhaile Átha Cliath, Aer Rianta Corcaí agus Aer Rianta Sionna a bheadh mar ainm ar na comhlachtaí. Is léiriú meoin é seo. Tá an Rialtas ag tabhairt an tarna háit don Ghaeilge.

De réir dlí, beidh ar an Aire an Ghaeilge a cur chun cinn agus ag an am gcéanna tá sé ag cur an Bhéarla chun tosaigh. Má aistrítear an reachtaíocht seo beidh Dublin Airport Authority plc mar ainm an chomhlachta ins na leagain Bhéarla agus Ghaeilge mar an gcéanna. Fiú insan aistriúchán Gaeilge beidh an tarna háit ag an nGaeilge. Suas go dtí le déanaí ba é an gnáthchleachtadh gur tugadh tús áite don nGaeilge i dteidil chomhlachtaí Stáit.

It is humorous to hear the Minister talk about putting finger post signs as Gaeilge for the three authorities. The Minister appears to think he can move the assets among the three companies like he can move finger post signs. However, even something as simple as moving such signs has huge ramifications for the people driving along the roads.

Again, I have raised a question and the Minister has not been prepared to answer it, as happened on Second and Committee Stages. He has ignored any questions raised about the detail of this Bill and has not been prepared to answer them. That is the reason many Members have major difficulties with what the Minister proposes. He brings forward legislation but is unable to give basic and simple answers to questions put by Members. What happens after 30 April if the boards say they do not wish to go it alone? It is a simple question and it should be considered in the context of this legislation. What will happen? There is nothing in the legislation to address it, which clearly highlights the fact that this legislation has been rushed and has not been considered fully. Although it is 12 months since the Minister's announcement, he still has no idea where he is going with this.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 35, 36 and 39 are related to amendment No. 2. Is it agreed that amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 35, 36 and 39 be discussed together? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

"1.—Prior to the commencement of any provision of this Act a detailed business plan incorporating long term projections and setting out the business case for the commencement of the relevant provision shall be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.".

As many people have argued last week and over recent months, a serious flaw exists in the Bill, namely, the want of a fully worked out strategic business plan which could cultivate some degree of confidence in the Minister's proposal to break up Aer Rianta. There has been much talk about the necessity for the Cork and Shannon airport authorities to submit business plans. The proposed timeframe for the presentation of these plans is loose. What is even more incredible is the fact that the Minister appears to have no plan and certainly none that has secured credibility either among the trade union officials, employees or the various consultants that were charged with overseeing the financial aspects of the project. My colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, made this point strongly on Committee Stage last week.

The report from Farrell Grant Sparks and Mazars consultants is not reassuring. This company was commissioned by SIPTU and the ICTU to examine the information provided by the Department. Its report makes interesting reading. It says with regard to independent financial analysis that no business plans have been produced to date to support the restructuring decision. In the opinion of the consultants it is unusual and imprudent to proceed to such a decision in the absence of the outline business plans. There are no long-term projections, it says, and projections are only provided up to 2008. In the view of the consultants, it is imprudent to base any decision on restructuring Aer Rianta on information that does not address the period after 2008.

The report discusses the position regarding capital expenditure requirements which, it says, are subject to such uncertainties and caveats as to limit their usefulness for realistic evaluation. It also points out that the situation regarding borrowing requirements and availability is uncertain. In the opinion of the consultants, the decision to proceed with the break-up was imprudent, especially given the lack of a solid business plan. There are also no solid long-term plans or financial projections. Whatever projections exist relate only until 2008. SIPTU has opposed the break-up from the beginning and the consultancy report reinforces that opposition, given the serious issues identified by the consultants.

I ask that the amendment be accepted. With regard to Dublin Airport, the second terminal is of major importance for the future of the airport. As the Farrell, Grant, Sparks and Mazars report outlines, any discussion of projections for Dublin Airport without reference to the second terminal is rendered partial at best and potentially lacks relevance. It goes on to point out that there is simply no way of assessing the potential impact of a second terminal and, therefore, no way of assessing the future of Dublin Airport. There is no clarity in this affair and the process is taking place in a vacuum. That just about sums up the Minister's performance on this issue.

There is no strategic business plan, no long-term projections beyond 2005 and no vision for the future of the national aviation service. Lack of projection leads to uncertainty at all levels, not least on the financial level. Based on any assessment of how matters are proceeding on this issue so far, Aer Rianta's assets look set to reduce drastically in value for all manner of reasons and this is as a result of the Minister's failure to produce a clear, well worked and thorough strategy for the future of aviation.

There is no aviation plan and there is a need for a White Paper on the issue. A business plan does not exist. A previous speaker spoke about putting the cart before the horse. The way forward is through having a business plan but there is no such plan in the proposal before the House.

This group of amendments go to the heart of this legislation and what is wrong with it. There is no case for the break-up of Aer Rianta. In spite of the Minister's protestations over the past year, he has never had a case for it and has never had any expert advice which supported what he proposes to do. All members of the Opposition and, increasingly, members of the Minister's party are becoming very nervous about the course of action on which he is about to embark.

The Minister is about to embark on a wrecking exercise in respect of most of the commercial semi-State bodies. He and his Progressive Democrats colleagues in Cabinet have won the day. Despite the concerns expressed by the Minister for Finance and his gut feeling that this is not a prudent thing to do, despite the Taoiseach's natural inclination with regard to the public service and in spite of the poor European and local elections results for the Government in recent weeks, the Minister is intent on pressing forward with this proposal to break up and wreck a successful semi-State company. There is no plan to do anything else. There is no basis for the breaking up the company and there are serious concerns in Dublin, Cork and Shannon about what is likely to happen when the three airports are cut adrift.

It is not just Aer Rianta that will be affected. We now see, not coincidentally, that within a matter of days of moving this legislation the Minister was being supportive of the quite outrageous proposal from the chief executive of Aer Lingus to privatise that company. As with the Minister, the notion of public service seems to have gone out the window when it comes to senior management in Aer Lingus.

Over the past two years the Minister has attempted to break up CIE as well, to destroy a very good bus company, Dublin Bus, which has been extremely successful in recent years, because he is anti-public service and wants to open up Dublin Bus to enable friends and others who want to get in on the action to do so. He is destroying something that is good and is working well. The Minister is embarking on a convoluted operation, setting up all kinds of expensive regulations in order to get his way.

The difficulty with the wrecking exercise in which the Minister is engaged is that once the damage is done there is no going back. Once the semi-State companies are destroyed and privatised they are gone for ever. We may well find ourselves in seven or eight years' time, as happened in London after Margaret Thatcher destroyed so many of the public services, trying to turn the clock back and re-establish semi-State services. That is precisely what is being done in respect of transport in the London area. What the Minister is doing is an extremely expensive exercise. It is also very damaging in terms of what is done to public services in the interim.

The Minister is doing this because naturally and ideologically he is fundamentally opposed to the notion of public service and finds it impossible to accept that public servants can provide good quality services. He has shirked his responsibility to ensure that we have bright and vibrant public service companies. He should emphasise the need to cut costs, to streamline companies as much as possible, to reduce their cost base, to modernise them and make them competitive. There is no doubt that much improvement is required. However, rather than standing by public service and ensuring good quality services the Ministers is bowing to the demands of his PD colleagues in Cabinet to wreck the public service, to flog off the profitable aspects of it to various private interests, and to hell with the interests of the taxpayer and the travelling public. That is what the Minister is intent on doing in respect of Aer Rianta. We know from all of the expert reports that there is no case and that this does not make sense. Nowhere within the Department or within Aer Rianta is there a business plan for the break-up. Over the past year the Minister went through the charade of claiming there was information, that PwC had prepared a report. However, when the trade union nominated consultants examined those papers they found they were not about the break-up but were simply a review of the forecasts for Aer Rianta, outside of any consideration of a proposed break-up, and meaningless in respect of what is being proposed by the Minister. Bringing in the various consultants over the past year to say what people on this side of the House have been saying from the start, that there is no case, was an expensive and worthless exercise. Now the Minister has come up with the nonsensical proposal to break-up the company, have each of the two new companies draw up a business plan, and see whether they cut the mustard with the Minister for Finance. It is a ridiculous way for the Minister to go about his business. It does not make any business sense. It is poor politics. I do now how the Minister's Cabinet colleagues can let him get away with it or what kind of deal the Minister has done behind the scenes. Fianna Fáil backbenchers are getting grief from their constituents about this, but the rumours of uproar and revolt on the back benches have been greatly exaggerated and have come to nothing. The Fianna Fáil backbenchers, who were so concerned about Aer Rianta, did not open their mouths last Thursday when they had the opportunity. They have been spinning to the papers about their concern and how they would kick up within the parliamentary party, but when they had the opportunity to say something, they sang dumb. Is it any wonder the electorate gave them the answer it did on 11 June?

The Minister is about to embark on a very dangerous exercise that will result in huge costs for the taxpayer and huge damage to public services, not to mention the considerable number of jobs that will be lost in the process. The reason the Minister is destroying Aer Rianta is to deal with the issue of the second terminal. Various private interests are trying to get in and make money out of the second terminal, and the Minister is determined to facilitate them. His restructuring plan will lead to massive redundancy programmes for both Dublin and Shannon, and the taxpayer will end up paying for those, purely to facilitate private interests about which the Minister is more concerned than he is about members of the public.

I strongly urge Members to support these amendments.

Amendments Nos. 35, 36 and 39 in my name relate to the financial viability of the Minister's proposals. I said on Second Stage and on many other occasions that I and Fine Gael have no difficulty with the Minister's proposal, that if it was of benefit to the consumer, the country, and the efficient operation of the three airports we would support it, but that it was up to the Minister to make a case and bring it forward. He has failed to do that. What concerns me most is not that the Minister has failed to do that but that he has failed to address any of the questions raised by Members on this side of the House and has failed to enter into any debate on the issues. There has been complete silence from the Minister. On Committee Stage the Minister's colleagues on the back benches, who professed to be so concerned about the Minister's proposal, could not bring themselves to raise any concerns about this Bill. That the Minister has not been prepared to engage with Members on this side of the House and has chosen to sing dumb on the issues we raised gives rise to serious concern regarding his proposals and the legislation he is attempting to force through the House. The Government has a majority and can force the legislation through. However, that does not make it good legislation.

There is serious concern regarding bonds and bond holders. These concerns have been raised with the board of Aer Rianta and with the Departments of Transport and Finance. Deputy Rabbitte raised the question of the waiver of rights which was sought from both the bankers and the bond holders. We received no response from the Minister. None of the Government or union consultants who have reported on this have endorsed the Minister's proposals. There is no documentary evidence and the Minister has not been prepared to respond on critical issues for the future of the three airports, for example, the need for significant capital investment at Cork Airport.

We have no detail on where that investment is to come from or how those capital loans are to be secured. There is a physical restriction on the development of Cork Airport which will have an impact on its future growth and its ability to attract new investment, especially from North America, which the Cork board will be considering very seriously. Some of the physical constraints in Cork can be overcome, but some cannot. However, none of them has been addressed by the Minister in any way.

What impact will the open skies policy have on Shannon? Negotiations are ongoing directly between the Department of Transport and its counterpart in the United States, as well as between the EU and the US. What impact will that have on Shannon Airport? None of that has been addressed. There is also an infrastructural issue at Shannon, mainly regarding the need to upgrade existing facilities. Significant capital investment is required for the runway. None of that has been addressed.

The single biggest issue for Shannon is the significant need for major infrastructural investment in access to the airport from outside the mid-west region. If Shannon is to gain a sound financial footing, it requires significant capital to attract business from beyond its own hinterland. The Minister is looking sympathetically at proposals for a rail link to Shannon Airport, just as he does with many other issues. That will require capital investment, either from the State or from the board of Shannon Airport, which is severely restricted in the debt that it may raise for that purpose, which is capped at €20 million in this legislation.

Another critical issue is that if this legislation is enacted as proposed, the only significant competition will be between the airports at Cork and Shannon. There will be no significant competition between Dublin and the other two; there may be a little, but it will be very limited. However, there will be significant competition between Cork and Shannon, which will have an impact on both airports. The Minister has raised concerns about Shannon and been critical of our raising concerns in that regard. He has it in black and white in the Schedule to the Bill, in which the cap on the debt that may be raised for capital investment at Dublin Airport is €700 million, at Cork €100 million and at Shannon only €20 million. Those issues regarding Cork and Shannon have not been addressed by the Minister at any stage in this debate.

Let us turn to Dublin Airport. The impact of a second terminal will be critical to its future development in light of the fact that the company will be burdened by an additional €700 million debt. The Minister will make the point, as he has in the past, that the debt is there currently and that it has to be serviced by Dublin. However, it has significant capital reserves which will not be available to it if this legislation is enacted next year.

There is a significant need for future development at Dublin Airport in terms of physical access from the city and the regions. The facilities within the structure itself must also be upgraded. The new pier which is required has been shelved. Investment will be critical to Dublin Airport being able to compete with an independent terminal at the site, yet we do not know the implications of those proposals which have been left in the air without any detail being provided or answers given to any of those questions.

There is also the question of the future of Aer Rianta International, the jewel in the crown of Aer Rianta. Where will it be based? Will it remain under the control of the Dublin Airport Authority? It has been suggested that it will be under the control of the Shannon Airport Authority, which will have implications for the value of Aer Rianta International and Dublin Airport's ability to repay its debt and compete with an independent terminal.

The Minister is also establishing three State competitors for Aer Rianta International. Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports can now set up their own operations of a type similar to Aer Rianta International and compete for the same type of business. There is nothing to restrict their doing so. That will have implications for the future financial viability of Aer Rianta International, as well as for its paper value.

The final piece of the jigsaw has been the Great Southern Hotels group. Where will that be after this break-up has been completed?

Sold in six months.

What of the Minister's commitment to job security? That commitment will have critical implications for the financial viability of all those operations. The key one in the short term concerns Shannon Airport, but it will also have implications for Cork and Dublin, Aer Rianta International, and the Great Southern Hotels group.

Another important issue — which I will once again raise, though I know that I will get no answer — is what happens if the board of Cork or Shannon decides that it does not want to go it alone, instead wishing to stay under the existing umbrella. What happens then and what are the implications under the legislation? If in nine months the board of either Cork or Shannon makes such a decision, how will the Minister rejig the Dublin board to ensure critical representation for them? Should Dublin control and be responsible for the management of Cork and Shannon in the long term? The reason that this legislation was originally mooted was that the independence needed at Cork and Shannon was not provided for. They could not develop their own operations and were restricted by the board of Aer Rianta. However, this legislation copper-fastens that in the short term and could do the same in the long term if those recommendations come back. The difficulty is that the boards of Cork and Shannon, based on the structure of the legislation before us, have no choice but to go it alone, regardless of whether they agree with that. They cannot tolerate a situation where the Dublin Airport Authority controls every move that they might make in the medium to long term.

The Minister said on Committee Stage that the PricewaterhouseCoopers report stated that a clearly defined capital pool would be critical to the future operations of the three boards. Currently no such pool exists. The Minister has provided no evidence to support the case that he makes in this legislation, something that gives rise to significant concern. My colleagues in Sinn Féin have endorsed the proposal that I made to the Minister almost 12 months ago when I suggested there was an urgent need for a White Paper on the aviation sector.

We have no details on the critically important implications of the independent terminal at Dublin Airport, the proposed privatisation of Aer Lingus, the independent operation of the three airports and the possible break-up of Aer Rianta when this Bill is enacted. The Minister's colleague, the Tánaiste, could explain that if air access to and from this State is not available, international investors will not come here to create the type of employment growth projected by the Government. We could severely hamper the development of the economy unless the issue is treated as a whole rather than in this piecemeal manner. We are enacting legislation without knowing its implications. The Minister is not willing to provide any information or offer an argument to support his case. That is the dangerous issue to be addressed by these proposals.

The Minister lacks the support of his back bench colleagues. On Committee Stage last week silent members from the Fianna Fáil backbenches drifted in and out but did not come to the Minister's rescue. They share our concerns on this but do not have enough spine to ensure they are addressed. We all want a strong aviation sector for the future but the Minister is not prepared to support that case.

I support several of these amendments. We have before us probably the most cumbersome Bill I have seen in my time as a Deputy. I cannot understand what set the Minister on this path but he has spent the past year assembling a house of cards. For him to accept any amendment will have the effect of removing a card and bringing the Bill down. In response to the previous question he said that he could not interfere with the sequence of events occurring.

Has the Minister ever asked himself why such an awkward and unprecedented sequence of events is required if this is a good idea? It is not because of the difficult technical and legal requirements regarding transfer of capital but because it makes so little sense and there is so little political support for it now that its enactment is imminent. To cover this the Minister has built a house of cards that will collapse some time at great cost to the State. It may collapse after the Bill is passed and the three separate airports are set up or, hopefully, before then to minimise the damage, perhaps not to political reputations, but to the State. If we build this house of cards, legislate for it and the airport structure collapses, there will be a serious cost.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 7 deal with the issue of appointing the Dublin Airport Authority first and burdening it with great responsibility for this change. Deputy Shortall suggested some motives and reasons for that. I have proposed an amendment to the effect that Dublin Airport be treated the same as Cork and Shannon airports. There is a case for the Minister for Finance to decide on this when the appointed day occurs rather than leave it in the hands of the Minister for Transport. Why is that Minister building this extraordinary structure to set Dublin Airport apart?

Deputy Crowe's amendment No. 2 touches the common theme in our arguments. Why is there no business plan for Dublin Airport in advance of the appointment day? The Bill provides for a business plan for Cork and Shannon airports to be drawn up before their appointed days.

Amendment No. 6 in the name of Deputy Shortall raises the major query as to who approves this. I would like to think the Oireachtas would approve it, as the amendment proposes. That might bring some of the chickens in the Fianna Fáil backbenches out to debate whether we should set this process in motion. I do not call them chickens for their undoubted cowardice but because they have been clucking and running around with expressions of concern and ruffling their feathers. In the end, however, they will vote for this legislation.

I would like to see the approval coming from the top in Fianna Fáil and the Minister for Finance approving all stages of this complicated process. The irony is that the arguments on this side emphasise good business practice and I have yet to meet anyone from the business community or elsewhere who believes this makes business sense. The Minister for Finance must ultimately oversee the financial business of the State. I would like to see him put his stamp of approval on this mad plan which, according to consultants who have examined it, makes no business sense.

These amendments are an attempt to level the playing field for Dublin Airport in particular and to urge the Minister to present a case for building this house of cards and achieve some form of accountability to prevent this being a personal crusade on his part. The answer from this side of the House, from outside commentators, and anyone with a knowledge of this area, is that the Minister's crusade makes no sense. He is building this house of cards to no positive purpose but with the potential to cause great harm. If he were to accept one of these amendments, even at this late stage, he would bring the whole house of cards down.

I strongly support amendments Nos. 2 and 3 in the names of Deputies Crowe and Shortall. They are important in that deal trenchantly with the idea of a business plan for a vibrant company. Every primary school, whether it has two or 20 teachers, must have a plean scoile for the year. This covers numbers of pupils, resources, teaching techniques and how money is spent, no matter how small the school. By contrast, we are debating the future of a large company such as Aer Rianta and there is no question of having a business plan. On that item alone the Minister and the Cabinet lose the argument.

Many people have expressed concern about Aer Rianta. I support the sensible and practical ideas which the staff and others who worked for the company put forward in this debate. Aer Rianta should be protected and guarded as a semi-State company and a valuable asset. There is too much discussion about having a go at companies such as Aer Rianta and Aer Lingus simply for the sake of doing so. Let us by all means consider research, development and new ideas. However, there is not necessarily a need to change the successful aspects of an organisation.

As regards the debate about economics, there are the views of Ministers, Deputies and right-wing economists and then there are those of one or two businessmen, for example, Michael O'Leary. Such individuals but forward a different view or vision because they are involved in business and in making money for themselves. What we are discussing in this Bill is a successful business. I have no difficulty with our considering the areas of efficiency and modern developments but we must also consider the interests of the 4,000 staff and those of taxpayers. In addition, we have a particular civic and social responsibility.

Let us consider the part of the Bill that deals with business plans. If a person seeks to open a small corner shop or approaches IDA Ireland for a small grant to enable him or her to take on 20 or 30 employees, he or she would have to supply figures, projections and a five or six-year plan. That is not the position in the Bill, which is leading us down the slippery slope towards privatisation. I do not accept that the Bill is not part of the privatisation agenda. It is a major step in that agenda. I challenge those in Government who were elected by the people and who are pushing an agenda that belongs to a political party which represents less than 3% of the population.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 relate directly to business plans. No business plans have been produced to date to support the restructuring decision. There are no long-term projections and it is imprudent to base any decision on restructuring Aer Rianta on information which does not address the period post-2008. The position with regard to capital expenditure requirements is subject to such uncertainties and caveats as to limit their usefulness for realistic evaluation. In addition, the position regarding the borrowing requirements and availability is uncertain. There are also many difficulties in respect of capital profits to be generated, the property income, the Cork lease, the board issues, legal and pension matters and operational issues. These are serious matters which must be dealt with in the economic debate.

In the privatisation debate it is often confusingly considered that those of us who support efficiency in public services all of a sudden support the privatisation of public companies. We all support radical change and efficiency but not necessarily privatisation. We must face up to research and development and economic realities. Looking at the economic realities there is no case for the break-up of Aer Rianta.

It is somewhat rich to see Government backbenchers such as Deputies Carey and O'Connor appearing on the plinth and wrestling with their consciences about Aer Rianta and then, when the matter arises in the Dáil voting with the Government. These individuals should get off the stage. If they are seriously on the side of people who are concerned about semi-State bodies and Aer Rianta, they should vote with us on this issue.

This debate has turned into an ideological debate. I come from a position on the left, while others are putting forward right-wing positions. I ask everyone to hold back and consider the economic and objective realities in this debate. If one looks at the economic projections and considers the overall position, one will come to the conclusion that there is no case for the break-up of Aer Rianta. I urge all Deputies to support amendments Nos. 2 and 3.

I have contributed to and listened to the debate on all Stages of the Bill. I note with interest the absence of Fianna Fáil Deputies from the Chamber. It is a sad day for democracy that despite their lack of interest legislation which is so important in terms of tourism, regional development and the aviation policy will be pushed through the House with majority support. On Committee Stage, I remarked on the speculation about changes within the Government, the possibility of someone departing to become EU commissioner, etc. The Minister, Deputy Brennan, who has been the subject of speculation, has placed a gun to the heads of the Taoiseach and the majority of his party's Government members and backbenchers and stated that this is a matter of principle for him and that if they do not support him he will walk. He is supported in that approach by his Progressive Democrats colleagues in Government.

It is sad that legislation which has only minority support will be pushed through the House this evening. The State Airports Bill 2004 is a sell off by Fianna Fáil of its core principles and it represents a victory for the Minister, Deputy Brennan, the Progressive Democrats and Michael O'Leary. Aer Rianta workers in Dublin, Cork and Shannon are being used as ideological pawns by the Minister and the Government in the push towards privatisation. In the first instance, privatisation will occur at Cork and Shannon. All of the analysis of the situation that arises on foot of the break-up will highlight the implications for Dublin Airport and, more importantly, the impact it will have on Shannon, Cork and regional development.

One of the key responsibilities of Aer Rianta is to provide infrastructure at Dublin, Cork and Shannon in a timely way to meet projected growth in passenger numbers. It is not as if there has not been an increase in the number of routes or in passenger throughput at the three main airports and at regional airports. However, we must plan for further increases and put in place infrastructure which will provide for primary runways, taxiways, aprons, parking stands for planes, terminal piers, car parking and the internal roads and transport systems at the airports.

No analysis has been carried out in respect of this matter. We have been informed — Deputy Rabbitte highlighted this fact earlier — that there is an existing debt of €484 million and that this is not, perhaps, excessive. It is not excessive in the context of Aer Rianta in its totality. However, when the company is broken up we will enter into a new scenario. As a Labour Deputy representing Dublin North, I must state that it is totally unacceptable that as part of this transition or break-up the liabilities of Cork and Shannon will be borne by Dublin. As stated on Second Stage and Committee Stage, Aer Rianta International has a major impact in respect of the viability of Aer Rianta. Where this entity will be located in the future is an important issue. I have no doubt that in the context of the difficulties that will arise, as they will, in regard to Shannon and Cork airports, funds will be directed from Dublin to them.

It is difficult to see how the strategic interest of tourism or transport can be served by the Minister's proposals. Media reports and independent analysis of the situation have focused on how legislation can be initiated on a whim. The legislation is being enacted and, if it does not work, it will be dealt with it at that stage. The Bill saddles the proposed Dublin Airport Authority with unnecessary debt and will jeopardise its ability to borrow for further important infrastructural developments there.

The Minister has put forward the view in the media that he wants to promote competition and look after consumers, yet passengers going through Dublin Airport on holidays or on business will be deprived of the facilities they require by the actions of the Minister who put an embargo on the development of pier D.

Hear, hear.

It is a scandalous situation. The Minister was to the forefront in castigating Aer Rianta two years ago when there was chaos at the airport. The Minister said not to proceed with pier D because he had his own plan and agenda, namely, the privatisation of Aer Rianta and the future provision of pier facilities by private enterprise. I have nothing against private enterprise playing a significant role in any element of society but, in this case, we are dealing with a successful semi-State company that has made a major contribution over the years. The company has a role to play in ensuring proper infrastructural development in this area but it is not being given the chance.

Of necessity, many of my points reiterate those of previous speakers. I cannot do otherwise as I must represent my constituents. I must speak up when I consider something is not in the best interests of the country. However, the Minister is not prepared to listen to Opposition speakers or even to his own colleagues. This project will ultimately lead to the privatisation of Cork and Shannon airports. Within a year we will see the sale of the Great Southern Hotels group, the undermining of the economic basis of Dublin Airport and the provision of a second terminal by private enterprise. That is all part of the Minister's agenda.

The Minister did not take on Michael O'Leary when he castigated and took issue with Aer Rianta. The enactment of the legislation will lead to a rise of up to 50% in airport charges at Dublin Airport. How can the Minister claim to be the champion of consumers and competition on the basis of his ideology rather than on the basis of putting forward a viable case? He is bringing forward legislation to undermine a good company that has worked well and, at the same time, putting extra charges on passengers coming to and going from the country. This is a disastrous move. It is a diabolical situation and I regret that the Minister proposes to push though legislation which will have such an impact on the country and that has such minority support in the Oireachtas.

I support the amendments and the thinking behind them. The basis for the legislation is ultimately the privatisation of Aer Rianta. Other speakers have also alluded to this point. On Committee Stage, in reference to the Great Southern Hotels group, the Minister said an amendment that was tabled would be unnecessarily prescriptive. I took that to be official-speak for privatisation. Like Deputy Sean Ryan, I believe the hotel group will be sold off sooner rather than later, if and when the Bill is passed, and that the other three airport authorities and Aer Rianta International will follow the same route.

For a Government that has been known for its right-wing economics in balancing the books, it is unusual that a Bill would be proposed in the past two weeks without any economic analysis of its implications or the production of a business plan. The legislation is being rushed through the House. It was published about ten days ago, Second Stage was taken last week and Committee Stage was rushed through last Thursday. Those of us on the Opposition benches had to sit for eight and a half hours while there was hardly any representation from the Government side apart from when votes were called. We have fewer than two hours to discuss this phase of the legislation. The Bill is significant and, as I said, is being put before us without any business plan.

As I said on Committee Stage, a business plan would be required if one were trying to get a loan in a bank or credit union for the extension of a hen house. One would need to have made costings and projections of profit and loss accounts. However, to break up a significant national organisation like Aer Rianta, no business plan is required. Occasionally, we have been told that a business plan exists. It is worth putting on the record some of the report of Farrell Grant Sparks and Mazars which states:

The PWC working papers are not, as might have been expected, a report, nor do the authors of the PWC report refer to them as such. They are presented as an analysis and commentary only. No conclusion has been furnished in the working papers and no due diligence or audit has been undertaken by PWC in presenting these papers. They are not intended to present a business case nor do they constitute an appraisal or valuation of any of the securities, assets or businesses of Aer Rianta. The PWC working paper states that it is not intended to express any opinion as to the financial viability of an independent Cork or Shannon Airport.

The report continues in that vein. From that report, it is quite clear that no business plan has been prepared for the break-up of Aer Rianta into three authorities.

I am sure this is known to the Minister, his officials and the Government. It has been said that this Bill represents a hunch on the part of the Minister and a leap in the dark. However, it is neither. It is a very clever Bill designed to introduce the privatisation of Aer Rianta. It is brought before us in such a way that even if the business plans, which are proposed to be in place by 30 April of next year, should suggest that the separate entities might not be financially viable, we can be sure the Minister and his officials will find a political way around it to ensure the company is broken up anyway. I support these amendments, particularly those requiring a business plan.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions. The reforms I am proposing in the legislation are designed to grow Shannon, Cork and Dublin Airports.

How does the Minister know?

The Deputy should allow me to speak. I want them to develop separate business strategies, including concentrated marketing initiatives. The chairman of the new Shannon Airport Authority, Pat Shanahan, has publicly indicated that from his analysis with his board designate, the airport will be able to double its passengers from the present 2 million to 4 million, and similar estimates have been made in Cork. Some 90% of those travelling to the United Kingdom and Europe go from Dublin. With strong regional and international leadership, there is no reason Cork and Shannon airports cannot grow dramatically.

I reject the patronising and depressing attitude to Shannon and Cork airports, which insists that we must hold them in the family of Aer Rianta and shovel them down lorry loads of money every year to keep them quiet. I take a different view.

Nobody said that.

I have a different vision of confidence in the people of the Munster region and the mid-west, with a strong new leadership and free of debt——

The Minister is acting on a hunch.

——to grow those airports by having strong marketing strategies, by not leaving all the business to Dublin, and by fighting to get that business for themselves. I reject the patronising attitude, which I have seen on television many times in recent weeks, that suggests: "Poor old Shannon and poor old Cork, sure they're culchies——

There is nothing wrong with being a culchie; the Minister is one himself.

——from down in the west and the south and wouldn't be able to survive without Dublin shovelling down the money."

The Minister should not distort things. He Minister should not play that game.

I reject that patronising attitude to Shannon and Cork——

Where is the plan?

——and the people of that region. For the fourteenth time I have been lectured by Deputy Shortall based on old Labour ideology which insists that I must not think about touching the Great Southern Hotels as there are workers there.

Nobody said that.

I must not dream of touching Aer Rianta because there are workers there.

The Minister is setting out to wreck every semi-State company.

I must not even think about touching CIE because there are workers there.

The Minister has a wrecking plan.

Old Labour is alive and well and living on the benches opposite. It is an old Labour that believes in high tax, high spend and monopolies. In the 21st century, it still believes in and would fight to the death to protect them.

That is untrue.

There is a different road, which is in consultation with everybody involved to develop strategies that allow other people and not just State companies and monopolies to take part in public transport and run State airports and hotels.

Irrespective of whether it makes sense.

I am being accused of being ideologically anti-public service. Even the ten new member states of the European Union that joined on 1 May have rejected most of this nonsense about protecting monopolies permanently into the future.

The Minister should not play that game. His proposals have no basis and will increase landing charges.

I am being lectured about having the cheek to touch CIE so that I can try to provide a better public transport alongside the State companies. I am not proposing privatisation in CIE.

He is. The Minister proposes that 25% of Dublin Bus be privatised.

It does not belong to them; it belongs to the people.

It is privatisation.

Those routes belong to the people and not to the State company.

The Minister should speak about the airports.

I know the Deputy is conscious of this point. Some 80% of workers do not belong to trade unions.

It has nothing to do with the trade unions.

We need to take account of consumers and customers. If the Deputy does not believe me, she should ask the 300,000 people who travelled on the Luas in recent days because they saw a high quality service being provided. I have no hang-up about State services or the State sector. I do not propose privatisation.

I want to grow Shannon and Cork airports. I want to place faith in those people to grow those airports strongly with strong leadership and I believe they will do so. Dublin Airport is planned to grow from 15 million to 30 million within 15 years. If Shannon gets some regional, UK and European business and some more American business, it can become one of the finest airports in the world. The alternative scenario being painted here is to leave it cosseted inside the group and throw it a few bob every year on the basis that we need to save the west.

Nobody is saying that.

The way to save the west is to give authority and autonomy and show faith and belief in the people of those regions, which is what I am doing in this legislation.

As it is now 7 o'clock I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Transport and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 60; Níl, 53.

  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Question declared carried.