Adjournment Debate.

Air Travel Tax.

We raise this matter in the context of fears about the future of Shannon Airport, with particular reference to Ryanair threatening to pull out from April next year. In effect, this would mean that 1.4 million passengers would be lost to the airport — 75% of Ryanair traffic — as the airline is planning on leaving only one aircraft there. In 2007 Ryanair accounted for 46% of overall passenger numbers, while 59.6% of overall passenger numbers at the airport were Ryanair-generated in 2008. This would create an enormous difficulty for it.

While Shannon Airport faces many difficulties, the tax issue is one that has been cited by Ryanair. I know that at times Ryanair tries to force unreasonable bargains but in this case it is absolutely right. The €10 tax is regressive and unfair, a barrier to travel and anti-competitive. In the context of Ireland being an island nation which needs to encourage tourism, facilitate travel and have balanced regional development, the tax is clearly a threat to the future of Shannon Airport.

It is also a problem in the context of tourism. A statement issued today by the Irish Hotels Federation calls for its abolition. It is worth noting that the federation gives statistics indicating that 200,000 people across the country are employed in the tourism industry and that its contribution to the economy in 2008 was €6.3 billion. All that the travel tax has brought in since it was introduced and became effective on 30 March is €57.9 million, which is far less than what was predicted. Some €57.9 million in the context of a tourism budget of €6.3 billion indicates that the tax needs to be totally reconsidered. If it discourages tourists from coming to this country — tourism is such an important industry — the detrimental effect it is having throughout the country can be imagined. We are particularly concerned about Shannon Airport. This tax, if it drives Ryanair out, will pose huge problems for the airport and the region.

I reiterate my complete opposition to the €10 travel tax. The tax which was introduced in the rushed budget of October 2008 by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has caused and is causing extreme harm to Shannon Airport and the economies of County Clare and the mid-west region. Absolutely no thought or consideration was given by the Government to the impact such a tax would have on tourist numbers.

As an island nation, Ireland's tourism product is dependent on quality, affordable air connectivity. There is huge pressure on airlines to stay in operation, with fuel price volatility and a dramatic slowdown in demand. Many airlines have gone to the wall as a result of these factors. We simply cannot afford to place ourselves at a competitive disadvantage in regard to other destinations but the Minister's travel tax does just this.

This year Shannon Airport has already paid a high price because of the tax, with the loss of two Ryanair aircraft from its Shannon Airport base, the loss of five Ryanair routes and a reduction in the number of Ryanair flights from 136 to 116 per week. Governments in other countries have acted quite differently in response to the global economic slowdown. They have removed travel taxes and airport charges. If this country is to bounce back from the economic doom it faces, it will have to do the same. Since 2008 the Dutch Government has removed its travel tax, the Belgian Government has decided not to introduce a similar travel tax, having listened to stakeholders in its tourism industry, while in Spain and Greece the respective governments removed charges on all regional airports. What did the Irish Government do? It imposed a ridiculous travel tax which has pulverised the tourism industry. Some hotels in County Clare are open only three days a week, bed and breakfast premises have closed down, as have restaurants and pubs, yet the Government response is to persist with a depressing travel tax.

In 2007 Ryanair accounted for 46% of business activity at Shannon Airport and in 2008, for 1.85 million passengers, delivering 60% of the airport's passengers. Last week Ryanair issued a very stark warning that the base which it established five years ago would be reduced by75%. I appeal to the Minister of State who comes from the mid-west and represents north Tipperary——

Almost. It is south Tipperary.

I appeal to him to give a commitment to abolish the travel tax in the next budget. If Ryanair strips 75% of its service at Shannon Airport, it will cause utter devastation in the region.

I am pleased to take the opportunity to comment on the air travel tax and express my regret at the decision of certain airlines to withdraw flights and services from Shannon Airport.

The Minister accepts that the airline industry, with other industries within the transport sector and beyond, continues to go through a difficult trading period. However, he does not accept that the decline in passenger numbers experienced by the airports in the State is due to the introduction of the air travel tax. The difficult trading period in the airline industry arises primarily from weak world economic activity. The decline in air travel is an international phenomenon and as a result, aviation services are contracting on a global basis. As Deputies may be aware, Airports Council International, ACI, has reported that European passenger traffic from January to July was down 8.7% compared to the same period in 2008. The International Air Transport Association reports also reflect such declines.

In the case of Ireland, the decline in passenger numbers through our airports is broadly in line with that in our international counterparts, including those where there is no travel tax in place. This downward trend is evident for periods prior to the introduction of the air travel tax. Furthermore, passenger numbers for other modes of transport such as railways have also experienced broadly similar declines. While this is not desirable, it is clear that the air travel tax is not the substantive cause of the decline in passenger numbers.

Ireland is not unique in applying a tax on air travel. Many countries worldwide and within the European Union apply similar taxes. For example, our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, has applied a similar tax for a number of years. It recently revised the air passenger duty to have four bands of 2,000 miles each and increased the rates just two days ago. The new rates are as follows: band A, 0 to 2,000 miles, £11——

What about Belgium and the Netherlands?

——band B, 2,001 to 4,000 miles, £45; band C, 4,001 to 6,000 miles, £50; and band D, over 6,000 miles, £55 in the case of economy class. These rates double in the case of tickets other than economy class. One might be tempted to argue why the airlines which use UK airports — some use them very heavily — do not bully the British Government.

I am sure they do.

The base band A rate is being further increased to £12 from 1 November 2010, with increases of 30% to over 50% being applied to the other three bands, B, C and D, also from that date. In France, the civil aviation tax is charged at around €4 for EU destinations and €7 for other destinations. Moving further afield, Australia and New Zealand which, like Ireland, are extraordinarily dependent on air travel also apply departure taxes.

The rates for the Irish air travel tax are not unreasonable, both for shorter and longer journeys, when compared to rates in other countries. Taking the United Kingdom as an example, a person travelling within the United Kingdom will be liable to pay the UK air passenger duty of £11, or approximately €12, on each leg of the journey, that is, a passenger departing from Manchester to London will be subject to the £11 tax and on the return journey departing from London to Manchester will also be subject to the £11 tax, giving a total tax liability of £22, or approximately €24. In Ireland, a person travelling within the State will be liable to pay €2 in tax on each leg of the journey, giving a total tax liability of €4. Furthermore, the UK rates in respect of longer flights range from moe than four times higher to five times higher than the Irish rate. The Government acknowledges that low cost travel has been good for Ireland. The pioneers in this area deserve to be commended. However, in analysing the new tax, we must not overplay its impact.

At the moment, a fare from Shannon to London Stansted that is initially presented as €15 with a similar €15 return fare will actually cost a passenger over €100 when all charges are included, excluding the air travel tax. This assumes no luggage is checked in which would cost more. Included in the €100 is a €5 credit card handling fee per flight segment. This practice has been the subject of much criticism by consumer bodies. In addition, there is a recently introduced on-line check-in fee of €5 per flight segment. If a person cannot check in on-line, there is a €40 check-in fee per flight segment. Incidentally, the on-line check-in fee for a return flight to the UK equates to the amount of the air travel tax for that journey. It is also worth noting that in the case of a return journey within the State, the on-line check-in fee is two and a half times higher than the €4 air travel tax liability for those flights.

A person flying from London Stansted to Shannon, or indeed from any airport in the UK to Ireland, is already paying, through the airlines, £11 or around €12 in air passenger duty to the UK Exchequer. Airlines do not appear to have any difficulty in applying the UK air passenger duty. In the case of long-haul flights, a €10 tax as a proportion of the total price of a return fare is minimal. Visitors to Ireland are only subject to the tax on the return journey. The additional €10 or €2 in the context of a much larger purchasing decision involving travel, hotel expenditure and so on, should have only a limited effect on tourist numbers.

In addition to weak world economic activity, the spate of failures in the airline sector have been largely driven by a massive spike in oil prices in 2008. Price pressures have subsided and fuel costs — which had increased to as much as 50% of some airlines' cost base — have fallen considerably. Airlines benefit from an international tax exemption on jet fuel. The extent of this benefit is illustrated by the example that tax as a percentage of the price of a litre of petrol is currently in excess of 60%.

We have to bring a sense of balance to this debate. In the past few years we saw exceptional growth in air travel both to and from Ireland. Strong disposable incomes and consumer confidence at home led people to take, in some cases, several air trips per year. However, it should come as no surprise that given uncertainties in the economy generally, consumers have shown some reluctance to take or plan trips abroad. An air trip abroad generally involves expenditure of several hundred euro, so to blame singularly the introduction of a modest air travel tax of €10 or €2 for the reduction in passenger numbers is stretching credibility. It is difficult to understand how an airline that has complained vigorously about the €10 air tax, on the basis of price sensitivity of customers, can then introduce a non-discretionary on-line check-in fee of €5 per flight, or €10 per return flight.

The introduction of a relatively modest air travel tax is an important revenue raising measure in the context of the significant financial challenges we now face. The Minister for Finance has no plans to review the tax as proposed by the Deputies.

Architectural Heritage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government last week published Ireland's draft new tentative list of potential nominees to the world heritage list. I am delighted that "Dublin — A Georgian City and its Literary Tradition", was included on this draft list. Since I was elected in 2007, I have sought for Georgian Dublin to be nominated as a UNESCO world heritage site. This is a good news story and there is great credit due to the Minister, whose commitment to this proposal I welcome.

Georgian Dublin is of huge cultural significance to Ireland and deserves to be protected and promoted as an historic and beautiful part of our country's history. As has been highlighted in the draft list, the establishment of the wide streets commissioners, Europe's first official town planning authority, was visionary for its time and was later copied in other cities. Furthermore, 18th century Dublin witnessed one of its most exuberant bursts of architectural development with the proliferation of fine municipal buildings, grandiose squares and wide, elegant streets.

The period from 1714 to 1830 saw the development of the Irish Houses of Parliament, the Four Courts, King's Inns, City Hall, Leinster House, Dublin Castle, the Mansion House and Iveagh House among others. Fine architects such as James Gandon, who designed the White House in Washington D.C., designed the Custom House Building and the Four Courts and left an indelible mark on the character and style of Dublin's built environment. Likewise, the contribution of the city to world literature is far-reaching and exceptional.

Becoming a UNESCO world heritage site would confer international status on Georgian Dublin and would endow it with a level of international protection and preservation. Other cities with Georgian architecture that have received world heritage site status include Bath and Edinburgh. Ireland has only three UNESCO world heritage sites, namely, Newgrange, Skellig Michael and the Giant's Causeway.

This designation would be invaluable for Dublin. It would protect the cultural heritage of the city. It would help to raise architectural and historical awareness and would enhance Dublin's reputation as a tourist destination of world class standard, as has occurred in Edinburgh. I want to put on record my complete support for Georgian Dublin's elevation from the tentative list to nomination for inscription on the world heritage list. This will only take place after consultation with the relevant stakeholders and interested parties, and I believe that the plan is for this to take place through a partnership forum established for each proposed nomination. Can the Minister give more details of this forum for residents who are interested in making an observation on the list?

I thank Deputy Chris Andrews for raising this important issue for the city of Dublin. I fully agree that Georgian Dublin is of great cultural significance to this city. It is internationally accepted that Dublin has made an extraordinary contribution to world literature. It was, and continues to be, a city where people write and is the setting for texts of international significance such as O'Casey's dramatic trilogy and Joyce's Ulysses.

Dublin has evolved over the years and is now a thriving multicultural city of social, cultural and economic activity. I am aware that Dublin is currently seeking designation as a UNESCO city of literature. Dublin City Council is considering the introduction of new policies within the development plan that include increasing public awareness of the heritage plan, promoting access to heritage sites, exploring UNESCO potential and the protection of Dublin's Georgian squares, particularly Mountjoy Square and Parnell Square. This is very welcome news.

As Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I am responsible for world heritage policy matters under the convention for the protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage adopted in 1972 by UNESCO. The convention was ratified by Ireland in 1991. I have responsibility for the process of identification and nomination to the world heritage list of those properties in Ireland, which are considered to be of outstanding universal value and meet the UNESCO criteria for world heritage designation.

A tentative list is an inventory of those properties which a state party intends to consider for nomination to the world heritage list in the next five to ten years. Ireland's current tentative list dates back to 1992. UNESCO recommends that state parties to the world heritage convention resubmit tentative lists to UNESCO at least every ten years. Last October, I established an expert advisory group to carry out a review of the current tentative list and to identify those properties around the country which the group considered best meet the criteria required for inscription on the world heritage list.

The expert advisory group has considered properties on the current tentative list and other properties around the country, including Georgian Dublin, on the basis of detailed reports compiled by members of the group or by experts commissioned by the group. Members of the public and interested groups were also invited to submit potential properties for inclusion on the new tentative list. Thirty one such proposals were received and assessed by the expert advisory group.

The expert advisory group has now finalised a draft new tentative list which contains the details of the properties which the group considers are of outstanding universal value, meet the UNESCO world heritage inscription criteria in terms of integrity and authenticity and have the best potential for future inscription on the world heritage list.

I can confirm that "Dublin — A Georgian City and its Literary Tradition" is on the draft new tentative list of potential nominees to the world heritage list. This list was published in the daily newspapers and on my Department's website yesterday, inviting comments on the draft list. Following the receipt and assessment of comments and submissions received by the expert advisory group, the new tentative list will be submitted to me for my approval with a view to the forwarding of the list to UNESCO. I can confirm, in response to the specific question asked by the Deputy, that we are taking comments from the public. That was the purpose of the newspaper advertisements. If people log on to the Department's website, they will find an e-mail address they can use to transmit their comments on this matter. If the Deputy has any further questions, I will be happy to answer them.

Institutes of Technology.

The Grangegorman Development Agency has the important remit of constructing a new campus for the Dublin Institute of Technology, in advance of the relocation of the institute's seven faculties, which are currently distributed throughout Dublin, to the Grangegorman site. Given that many of the buildings on the 70-acre Grangegorman site are quite old and were not built for these purposes, the agency will have the difficult task of pulling everything together so the institute will operate effectively. This new initiative has a statutory basis, in the form of an Act that was passed by the Oireachtas some years ago. The Minister is statutorily required to appoint a new board of the agency, as the term of office of the previous board expired in the middle of last month, but he has not done so. Not only is he is awaiting nominations from the Department of Health and Children and Dublin City Council, but he is also consulting himself by looking into his own heart.

The Minister has said that when he receives the nominations, he will present a draft memo to the Cabinet. He will have to prepare such a memo, a strategic plan and a budget. All of this is taking place in limbo, in the absence of a board. The Minister has an obligation to appoint a board because in the absence of a board, the agency cannot continue its business. As it has neither a chief executive officer nor a fully fledged board, it is pretty much stalled and stagnant. It does not know where it is going. It is rudderless and directionless as it waits for the Minister to make up his mind about what he intends to do. One cannot develop a major project in such circumstances.

Those who have been planning this project for years need to know where they are going. It might take them much longer to get this project off the ground, now that everything has suddenly ground to a halt as a consequence of the Minister's failure to get his act together. This is an important aspect of this important plan. Action is also required in the interests of other developments, such as the extension of the Luas network through Broadstone and Liffey Valley, where it will connect with the Maynooth line. One of the reasons the Luas extension was sanctioned was to allow Dublin Institute of Technology's 20,000 students to use public transport to travel to Grangegorman. If the Minister does not get his act together in time, two projects might well be stalled.

Perhaps the Minister will give us details of the strategic plan that has been mentioned, as I have no idea what it is. Such a plan should have been prepared well in advance of the date of expiry, so that the entire new board could be appointed and could get on with the job. I have been appointed to the consultative committee, which has no remit in the absence of the appointment of a board. Everybody is floundering because we cannot make progress with this important project. It is time we got clarity, direction and a decision.

I will respond to Deputy Costello on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and giving me an opportunity to remind the House of the progress that has been made by the Grangegorman Development Agency since its establishment in 2006 and to outline the current position with regard to the board of the agency. As the Deputy is aware, the Government appointed an interdepartmental committee in 2001 to examine the potential for the development of the Grangegorman site as a new Dublin Institute of Technology community campus. When the committee's report was presented to the Government in November 2001, the main recommendation was the establishment of what ultimately became the Grangegorman Development Agency. The Grangegorman Development Agency Act 2005 states that the general aim of the agency is to oversee the development of the lands at Grangegorman on behalf of the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children, Dublin Institute of Technology and the Health Service Executive. The agency has done considerable work since its first meeting in November 2006. It has developed links with all the relevant stakeholders and established a consultative group as required in section 22 of the 2005 Act. The agency has completed the drafting of a strategic plan and budget for the development of the Grangegorman site. It submitted the draft plan and budget to the Department in October 2008, as provided for in section 12 of the Act. Copies of the plan and budget were also forwarded to the Minister for Health and Children for her consideration.

Following their receipt of the strategic plan, officials from the Department of Education and Science, in consultation with their counterparts in the Higher Education Authority, commenced an assessment of the proposals. The Department also sought the advice of the National Development Finance Agency on the funding portions of the DIT draft cost benefit analysis and the draft strategic plan. In March 2009, the agency submitted a revised strategic plan and budget, taking account of the reduced prices in the construction sector by updating construction prices to January 2009 values. The agency reduced enabling infrastructure costs and revised the estimated value of the DIT property portfolio to reflect market trends. The revised plan, which proposes to deliver the complete project in phases, is being considered in the Department.

Section 17 of the Grangegorman Development Agency Act 2005 provides for the appointment of members to the board of the agency. As 14 members of the board of Grangegorman Development Agency were appointed for a three-year term in 2006, their term of office expired on 18 October 2009, with the exception of one member who resigned in March 2009 and was replaced. The 2005 Act provides that the ordinary members of the agency shall consist of two people nominated by the Minister for Health and Children, at least one of whom shall be an officer of the Health Service Executive; two people nominated by the president of Dublin Institute of Technology; one person nominated by the city manager of Dublin City Council; one resident of the Grangegorman neighbourhood, who is nominated following an election process; and one elected member of Dublin City Council who is nominated by that council. The Act provides that the remaining members of the agency, other than the chief executive, are nominees of the Minister for Education and Science and that all members of the agency are appointed by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The Act also provides that the Minister shall designate one member of the agency as chairperson. In compliance with the Act, the Minister sought and has received nominations from the Minister for Health and Children, the president of Dublin Institute of Technology and the Dublin city manager. The agency has completed the local election process for the selection of a resident of the Grangegorman neighbourhood and has informed the Department of the nominee. Dublin City Council has also selected its nominee for the new board. The nomination process is nearing finalisation.

The Minister intends to address the appointment of a new board as quickly as possible. I thank the Deputy for giving me an opportunity to outline to the House how the Minister intends to address the appointment of a new board for the Grangegorman Development Agency.

Dental Support Services.

Almost three years ago, on 7 November 2006, a primary school student in my local area received an injury when he got a whack of a hurley into the face. He lost four teeth but, as expected, he got good attention. He was lucky because the school dentist was in the neighbouring town of Portumna at the time. The doctor in question took exceptionally good care of him. On five occasions during November, the child's case was reviewed by the doctor, who must be commended on the care she offered.

The parents were told by the school authority that any bills accruing as a result of the accident would be paid by the insurance company. Given the complexity of the case, the child was referred to a private orthodontist for root canal treatment and his four teeth were eventually re-implanted. Two of them settled and two had to be extracted later. Subsequently, on 8 December, the HSE communicated by letter stating the insurance would cover the costs of the orthodontist, which amounted to €1,800. The parents were asked to pay this on the day on which they visited the orthodontist. The parent in attendance had only €1,000 euro to hand and this was paid over.

The teenager has suffered very severe pain over the past three years and has had to endure cosmetic difficulties and the consequences of his four teeth turning black. This has social consequences.

The accident happened on a school premises during school hours under supervision, as accidents do happen on occasion. In this case, the insurance company has refused to compensate the parents in respect of the costs involved. At all times they were assured, through the HSE and the school authority, that it would compensate them. On the basis of my representations to the Minister and the HSE, I have been told this is not the case.

Consider what occurs if an accident happens in school during school hours, be it to a pupil or member of staff or the public, and the insurance company does not compensate. Will the Minister state whether all schools are insured if an accident as or more serious than the one I have described occurs? We were told by the insurance company that unless the school building had fallen on the child in question, it would not have paid up. If so, very many children are in danger. Health and safety will become a much greater issue in national schools if insurance companies renege on the policies they are selling to school authorities, including boards of management.

The parents to whom I refer are very dedicated. They could follow the board of management, whose members are serving voluntarily. The fact that they are serving voluntarily exonerates them from any charges as a result of accidents on school premises. Will the Minister, through the Minister for Education and Science, refund the parents in question on a once-off basis such that people will not be misled again?

I am replying to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. I thank the Deputy for raising this issue as it affords me the opportunity to outline the position with regard to claims arising from an accident at school.

A school's responsibility for the safety of children arises from the general law relating to duty of care and negligence. The position is that the Education Act 1998 assigns each board of management and principal teacher responsibility for the day-to-day management of schools. The rules for national schools and the Education Act 1998 oblige teachers to take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of pupils and to participate in supervising pupils when the pupils are on school premises, during school time or on school activities. Principals are required to organise supervision for the order and general behaviour of pupils during school hours. In particular, principals should organise and participate in the effective supervision of the pupils during breaks, lunch breaks, assembly and dismissal. Accordingly, it is the responsibility of all teachers, individually and collectively, to provide a duty of care at all times towards the pupils in the school in which they teach, including during periods of supervision.

While the Department does not issue specific guidelines on requirements for supervision of pupils of different ages, it acknowledges that the degree of supervision required of school authorities varies with the circumstances, including the age of the pupil. This duty, in the case of very young pupils, might include an obligation to ensure that such pupils do not leave the classroom without appropriate supervision.

Schools have a responsibility under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to have a safety statement in place in their schools. The statement should identify potential hazards, assess the risks to health and safety and put appropriate provision in place to safeguard the safety and health of employees and pupils. The safety statement should be reviewed on a regular basis.

At primary level, the revised constitution of boards and rules of procedure for primary boards of management requires each board of a primary school to put in place comprehensive insurance cover to safeguard the school, the board and the trustees. At second level, in the case of schools other than community or comprehensive schools, it is the responsibility of the individual school authority to put in place insurance cover. Claims arising under these policies are processed directly between boards and their insurers without recourse to the Department.

With regard to community and comprehensive schools, the State provides a general indemnity to the authorities of these schools in lieu of their taking out insurance cover against liabilities which may arise. In cases involving community and comprehensive schools and where the State or Minister is joined in a personal injuries claim by any party, the State Claims Agency is the body appointed by Government to respond to such claims.

In schools other than community or comprehensive schools, responsibility for arranging insurance cover, including the specific requirements of insurance cover against public liability, is a matter for the managerial authorities of the individual schools concerned. In this regard, each school should be satisfied that it is adequately covered by insurance against liability in respect of injury to pupils and teachers while participating in school activities including, as appropriate, any sporting events. The parents of the child in question should, therefore, address the matter of their child's accident with the school concerned.

The precise nature and terms of an individual school's insurance is a matter between the individual school and its insurers. The Deputy will also be aware that in the event of an accident in the school, the responsibility in any particular case will be determined by the particular circumstances of that case.

In addition to meeting the requirement for arranging school insurance cover, some schools also offer parents the option of availing of personal insurance policies which are paid for by parents. Such policies are fundamentally different from the school's insurance policy as in general these personal insurance policies are not liability based and result in payment irrespective of liability.

With regard to the specific issue of the provision of dental support services, the Department does not have responsibility for the provision of dental support services and I am not, therefore, in a position to comment on the matter of availability of dental treatment as raised by the Deputy. This matter is more appropriate to my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children.

Once again, I thank the Deputy for providing me with the opportunity to address the House and to outline the position on the responsibilities of schools in regard to the putting in place of appropriate school insurance arrangements.

The Minister is passing the buck again.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 November 2009.