Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 28 Mar 2012

Vol. 761 No. 1

Other Questions

Tourism Employment

Sandra McLellan


6Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if he will mandate SOLAS to work with the hotel sector to ensure a sustainable supply of trained workers to fill entry level positions in view of the fact that Ireland’s hospitality sector faces a shortage of trained craft/entry-level workers following Fáilte Ireland’s decision to cease providing this training. [16559/12]

The Deputy has asked whether I will mandate SOLAS to work with the hotel sector in the training of workers for the sector. As she may be aware, SOLAS comes under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills. Accordingly, I am not in a position to direct its operations.  Over the past two academic years, Fáilte Ireland in conjunction with the institutes of technology has put in place an agreed strategy for the provision of hospitality and tourism programmes in the institute of technology sector. This agreement ensures a sustainable supply of industry-ready people is available to Irish tourism over the medium term. A critical aspect of the collaboration with the education sector is that Fáilte Ireland has sought and achieved the provision of improved training and career prospects for new entrants. New apprenticeship style models have been developed and put in place across the country, together with an accelerated training programme for chefs and restaurant service providers. It is estimated that 18,800 trainees, students, employees and employers will receive training and business support from Fáilte Ireland in 2012. Fáilte Ireland considers that this range of courses addresses adequately the training needs of the industry. Having said that, additional provision in alternative delivery systems such as SOLAS is always welcome, as long as the service is closely aligned to the present and future needs of Irish tourism and the certification is in line with the national qualifications framework. It is worth noting that Fáilte Ireland has championed the earn and learn approach as the most effective way of enabling individuals to access accredited training on campus on a part-time basis while also learning on the job. Any new training provision by SOLAS will have to be funded by the Department of Education and Skills.

Is the Minister in a position to discuss this matter with his colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, and come back to me on it?

Yes, I can do that. Deputies are aware that SOLAS has not yet been established on a statutory footing. It is designed to replace FÁS. It will come to the Cabinet in the next few weeks. I will discuss the matter with the Minister, Deputy Quinn. I understand that some industry groups will make a proposal with regard to training through SOLAS. Having said that, much of the entry-level training can and should be done largely on the job. I do not think it is necessary to go to college to learn how to cut up a cucumber or something like that. A great deal of the training can be done on an earn and learn basis, mostly in the workplace.

Tourism Promotion

Patrick O'Donovan


7Deputy Patrick O’Donovan asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if he will extend the programme in which public buildings were lit in green in various different cities around the world, to those public buildings owned by the State; and if he will consider a grants initiative to local authorities and other State agencies to join in the programme for St Patrick’s day 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16863/12]

The Deputy has asked whether I will extend the programme of turning international buildings and landmarks green to public buildings in this State. St. Patrick's Day traditionally marks the start of the tourism season. Tourism Ireland's greening initiative had many famous additions this year. It signalled the start of a major push to increase visitor numbers from overseas by capturing public and media attention in key source markets. Over 30 of the world's most iconic landmarks across six continents went green to mark St. Patrick's Day. The London Eye, Burj Al Arab in Dubai, Table Mountain in South Africa, the Empire State Building in New York, the Sky Tower in Auckland and, for the first time ever, Niagara Falls and the Alexanderplatz television tower in Berlin are just some of the iconic buildings and attractions around the world which were part of this year's greening initiative, which marked St. Patrick's Day and kicked off the first half of Tourism Ireland's major promotional drive to develop overseas tourism. The initiative helped to capture media and public attention in markets across the world and put Ireland in the publicity spotlight as an attractive holiday destination. The message is that there has never been a better time to visit Ireland.

Tourism Ireland's St. Patrick's Day programme spanned Great Britain, mainland Europe and North America, as well as developing markets.  The tourism agency availed of every opportunity to capitalise on Ireland's heightened profile on television, in newspapers and in digital media to promote good value holidays and short breaks in 2012 and to launch the 2013 tourism initiative, The Gathering, overseas. As part of this year's St. Patrick's Day festival in Dublin, many of the city's iconic buildings were illuminated green. I hope this can be extended next year for The Gathering. The idea of extending this initiative to include more buildings throughout the country as part of the St. Patrick's Day festivities merits consideration. I will ask Fáilte Ireland to examine the matter further. Given the minimal costs that were associated with the greening of the international landmarks, I do not imagine the costs involved in a domestic programme would warrant a grants initiative as suggested by the Deputy.

I welcome the Minister's reply. I acknowledge the work that Tourism Ireland has done in this area. It was disappointing from the perspective of the home market that the emphasis was placed on buildings overseas. It may have been an oversight. I accept that an effort was made in Dublin in the case of the Trinity College and Bank of Ireland buildings on College Green. There are many iconic buildings and landmarks in other parts of the country. The Minister mentioned in his reply that an emphasis was placed on the St. Patrick's festival in Dublin. I presume he was not giving an exhaustive commitment when he said that. In light of next year's initiative, The Gathering, perhaps the St. Patrick's festival can be extended to encompass the whole country in 2013.

I welcome the Deputy's suggestion. The cost of the entire greening initiative overseas was less than €20,000. It was money very well spent by Tourism Ireland. A third of the money for that project came from the Northern Ireland Executive, thankfully. Most of those involved agreed to turn the landmarks green without looking for any money at all. I would actually be a little disappointed if officials associated with civic and private buildings around Ireland wanted a grant to go green when so many officials associated with buildings around the world are willing to do so without one.

I was really encouraged by an Irish student, Ben Finnegan, who took it upon himself to convince the mayor of Salamanca in Spain to turn the Plaza Major green. He was successful. I rang Mr. Finnegan last week to thank him. He made a suggestion that is worth considering, that is, that we should launch a big campaign to encourage the Irish overseas, including students and workers, to have the buildings in their cities turned green for The Gathering around St. Patrick's Day. Perhaps we could do something domestically by asking members of the local authorities and chambers of commerce to join in the initiative over the festival period.

In the absence of the Green political movement, perhaps the Minister will start by greening this building next year. This is an iconic building in the centre of our capital city. Beginning here could afford an opportunity to broaden the scheme through the OPW, local authorities and churches, who control many of our iconic buildings.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I, too, must mention Ben Finnegan, an Erasmus student who brought this matter to our attention before St. Patrick's Day. It is disappointing that we do not have an initiative at home to make green the main State buildings, be they in Cork, Dublin or Galway. An initiative of this kind would be very good because we have some fantastic buildings that we could display. We should not rely on other European countries; we should take the initiative ourselves.

I compliment the Minister and the Department on the initiative. To some extent, I disagree with my colleagues in that a Government initiative is not required. It is a question of selling Ireland abroad; we do not need to green our own buildings but to do more with our parades to display our culture and attract tourists.

The impetus must come from local communities. We have become far too dependent on the Government and we expect it to lead and drive everything. In my county this year, I saw much greater activity in villages and towns. Much of this is because of the economic position. I saw people at parades who would previously have taken pride in going to Lanzarote or Majorca for the weekend. This year, they were staying at home and spending their money at home, which is positive and good. We must use our scarce resources as best as we can overseas and use the days around St. Patrick's Day to try to attract people to Ireland and display our Irishness.

We should definitely have a campaign internationally to have the Irish overseas convince their universities or towns to go green. It would be very nice to achieve this at home also. One should bear in mind many foreign tourists come to Ireland over the St. Patrick's Day period, at which time the tourism season really begins. Tourists would comment if they noticed the entire city of Cork or Galway, or various towns, had gone green. I agree with Deputy Dooley, however, that this should be achieved from the bottom up. It is not expensive and special lights are not needed; it is just a matter of putting a green film over the lights. It is not an initiative that should require the involvement of the Government. It should be done from the bottom up as a local initiative. Perhaps we can kick it off as an idea and challenge people to go green.

Aircraft Operations

Robert Troy


8Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his views on the scientific reports commissioned by the EASA on the flight time limitations of air crews; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16900/12]

The Deputy's question relates to the flight time limitations of air crews.

The current EU rules on flight time limitations for commercial air transport operations are in place since July 2008 and were agreed following difficult negotiations in the European Council and Parliament. Under EU regulations, the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, is now charged with developing detailed technical rules for all aspects of aircraft operations, including flight time limitations for air crew. Under national law giving effect to these regulations, the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, is the competent authority in the State for the purposes of these regulations and the authority also advises me on all aspects of aviation safety.

The IAA supported the retention of the technical part of the current flight time limitations regime for a longer time span in order to gather evidence on its validity, reliability and operation given its relatively short period of operation since 2008. However, following an extensive stakeholder consultation exercise, which included discussions with aircrew representative organisations, the draft regulation that has now been published by EASA proposes replacing the existing rules with a new flight time limitations regime.

With regard to the scientific reports commissioned by EASA on flight time limitations, the IAA advises me that there were a number of scientific reports on various aspects of flight time limitations but it considers that the possible future merits of the agency's proposed draft regulation on flight time limitations could be identified only following a current scientific study on the draft regulation and the associated guidance material as a complete package.

The Minister will be aware that there is great concern in the industry, particularly among the professionals, including pilots. EASA proposes to bring all European states under one standard with its proposed new flight time limitations. Recent European studies have shown that 50% of the pilots have fallen asleep without having informed their colleagues. Some 80% have said they made mistakes due to fatigue, and 40% have reported they have been involved in serious incidents due to fatigue.

The difficulty is that the agency wants to extend duty limits even further. The statistics I have outlined, together with scientific and medical evidence gleaned over 40 years, lead one to conclude that there is no justification for the extension of the limits. Quite the contrary, the numbers who fall asleep without informing their colleagues and who make mistakes due to fatigue and the number of serious incidents due to fatigue demonstrate the necessity to reduce the limits rather than increase them. The extension clearly causes great concern among the travelling population and the professionals in the industry. It is not a matter of pilots or professionals wanting to extend their break periods but of ensuring much greater safety. There is a disparity between the views in Europe and the United States on this matter. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that.

This is largely a regulatory issue. The IAA is the competent authority in this regard but I am keeping abreast of the matter. I agree with Deputy Dooley that this is primarily a matter of safety, and decisions will be based on scientific research. It is not primarily a labour relations issue.

There has been much scientific research published but it can be somewhat subjective taken in isolation. I am informed there has been no scientific study to date on the existing flight time limitation scheme as a complete package. The existing flight time limitation package has only been in place since 2008 and there has not yet been a comprehensive scientific study as to its effectiveness. It may be too soon to start changing the rules before the existing ones have been in place for a reasonable time.

I understand this issue was due to be discussed at the Council meeting on transport last week. Will the Minister outline what emerged as part of the discussion?

It was not discussed at the Council meeting as it was not on the agenda, but there was an informal discussion over lunch among the Ministers. Participants just compared notes and no decision was made.

Every aircraft flying anywhere in the world should be flown by a crew working to flight time limitations backed up by scientific research and not on the basis of purely commercial need. Pilot unions around the world have been raising the issue of pilot fatigue for years. To ignore the message would be a mistake. It is very important.

While I have taken on board some of the Minister's points, I believe it is important that there be standards and that our airspace be protected thereunder. We definitely must have some means of assessing the standards.

As I stated, under Irish law the IAA is the competent authority regarding the EASA regulations. The IAA represents Ireland on the Commission's EASA committee and EASA's Advisory Group of National Authorities. As such, I have every confidence in the professional and technical expertise of the IAA to carry out its statutory duties in this regard.

Regional Airports

Michael Colreavy


9Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his views on the future of Galway Airport in view of rumours that a company (details supplied) might be interested in purchasing it. [16858/12]

I have no information on the matters raised by the Deputy. Galway Airport is a privately owned entity. Its future plans, including any possible sale, are matters for the owners and management of the company in which I have no function.

The interest is whether the airport in question will be sold. We need to save the jobs at the airport, as well as the region, the west, which has been badly affected by the economic downturn. It is in our interest to assist the airport as it has been subsidised - I assume that this is still the case - by the State. It is an important asset to the people in the west, particularly for tourism.

The Minister already stated he had no information on the matter. However, if he has anything more to add, he can.

The airport is not a publicly owned but privately owned entity. I understand the current owners are looking for a buyer but I have no involvement in that. It is no longer subsidised by the State. The only airport subsidies are regional airports in the west are for Ireland West Airport at Knock which obviously will not be able to go for ever either.

International Sporting Events

Eoghan Murphy


10Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his views of a potential bid by the Irish Rugby Football Union for the hosting of the 2023 Rugby World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16862/12]

Niall Collins


11Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if he is willing to facilitate talks between the IRFU and the GAA with a view to examining the feasibility of Ireland hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16874/12]

Brendan Griffin


43Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his views of a potential bid by the Irish Rugby Football Union for the hosting of the 2023 Rugby World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16905/12]

Anthony Lawlor


55Deputy Anthony Lawlor asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his views on a potential bid by the Irish Rugby Football Union for the hosting of the 2023 Rugby World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16546/12]

John O'Mahony


62Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his views on a potential bid by the Irish Rugby Football Union for the hosting of the 2023 Rugby World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16907/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 11, 43, 55, and 62 together.

The normal procedure for the hosting of international sporting events is that the Irish affiliate of the relevant international governing body would bid to host the event in question in Ireland. Accordingly, it would be a matter for the IRFU to decide if it wished to make a bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

If so, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and I will be pleased to engage with the union to explore the potential costs and benefits of hosting the event. In fact, we already have had some informal contacts about this issue and the IRFU will be meeting with us in the near future to discuss the possibility of hosting the event. A close examination of the economic feasibility and the potential return on investment would be crucial to any assessment of the bid to host the event and should take account of the experiences of recent hosts such as France and New Zealand.

The programme for Government includes a commitment that event tourism will be a priority to continue to bring major events to Ireland. The staging of major international sports events such as the Ryder Cup, the Tall Ships races, the Volvo Ocean race and the Solheim Cup, gave an opportunity to show that a country like Ireland can successfully host big events. Such events also provide a great showcase for Ireland and the media coverage helps to put Ireland onto travel itineraries as a holiday destination.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Irish international rugby is only getting stronger and domestically the game is coming on in leaps and bounds, particularly when one considers the school games. On Sunday recently, I attended the Leinster area junior schools' rugby final in which St. Michael's College beat Newbridge College. I offer my commiserations to Deputy Lawlor who is sitting beside me and who attended Newbridge College on behalf of myself and Deputy Boyd Barrett who also went to St. Michael's.

The Deputies certainly deviated in the political paths they chose after that.

Who paid Deputy Boyd Barrett's fees?

I know he would like to join me in congratulating St. Michael's on securing the double in winning both the senior and junior titles, a rare achievement. The idea the boys who played in Sunday's match and the senior cup final could perhaps tog out in the green jersey for a world cup on Irish soil is an inspiring idea. It is certainly a project we should be working hard on with the IRFU.

The Minister and I will meet with the IRFU shortly. It is a matter for the union to make the bid. Japan will host the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and must give a guarantee of €115 million. In 2023, that figure could well be €125 million. Also, television rights are held by the International Rugby Board. Saying that, Ireland would be well capable of holding the Rugby World Cup. If the IRFU bids for it, the Government and other agencies such as Fáilte Ireland would assist them in ensuring it would be a great event. I am confident we could host the event successfully. The IRFU recently stated it is examining hosting it and will look at the costs versus the economic benefits for France and New Zealand. If it decides then to put in a bid, we will discuss it with them.

I agree with Deputy Eoghan Murphy that rugby has taken off. He spoke about his school's team. I want to put on the record that while Westport is not a rugby town, its club won the Connacht under 18 final last year and I wish them success in next week's final.

That sounds like Westport should put in an application for the sports capital programme as it might find it would be putting it into a receptive Minister.

As Deputy Eoghan Murphy said, hosting the Rugby World Cup would be a fantastic opportunity. I am sure the Department of Finance would be the first to indicate the State's capacity to put in place the appropriate funding. While I accept these arguments, 2023 is a considerable time away. The tourism potential, as well as the sporting point of view, must also be considered. We should be able to give commitments to the various sporting organisations involved in ensuring they have the wherewithal to make it happen.

As I stated in my question, if it is necessary to involve the GAA, we should be prepared to do so. The GAA opened up considerably in the past by allowing the use of Croke Park by other sporting organisations. Of course, it will have to receive revenue for the use of the stadium. The revenues it received in the past were exceptionally well spent across the country. The GAA did not take it into central coffers but used it to develop centres of training excellence such as the one in County Clare.

I welcome the confirmation by the Minister of State that he is taking the matter seriously. It would benefit the State in many respects.

Deputy Dooley is correct that hosting the Rugby World Cup would be a great boost for the country and tourism. We have shown we are capable of holding major events.

I accept we may not have enough rugby stadia to cover the games. We would have to talk with the FAI and the GAA for using some of their facilities. Ravenhill rugby stadium is also being upgraded to 80,000 seats. The IRFU has stated a joint bid between Ireland and Wales or Ireland and Scotland could also be examined.

The programme for Government is committed to attracting major sporting events to the country. It will be a risk but life is not without risk. The economic benefit to the country would be very rewarding. If the IRFU makes the bid, it will get whatever support it needs from the Department.

I thank Deputy Eoghan Murphy for commiserating with me for my alma mater’s loss last Sunday. I congratulate St. Michael’s on winning the double. I do not know if Deputy Boyd Barrett knew the match was on at all considering-----

We were going well until now.

I remember in 1991 when Ireland co-hosted the Rugby World Cup, the best match of the tournament was Ireland against Australia at Lansdowne Road which is replayed time after time. Gordon Hamilton scored a try in the corner but Michael Lynagh scored a try in the last minute depriving us of an opportunity to play New Zealand in the semi-finals. That match created much interest in the game in the country.

There has also been good co-operation between the IRFU and the GAA, not alone at national level but also at local level. My club in Naas has hosted training sessions for Eadestown and Kill GAA clubs. This has been replicated at national level, particularly when the Aviva stadium was being constructed and Croke Park was made available to the IRFU. We have world-class stadia in Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium with upgrading developments at Thomond Park and the GAA grounds in Cork and Thurles. Hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2023 would give the country a welcome boost.

Everyone is positive about this proposal. The Government is supportive of it. We must sit down with the IRFU and the State agencies such as Fáilte Ireland to work on it. Hosting the rugby world cup in New Zealand was worth €500 million to its economy. This amount would be a great boost to our economy. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and I are prepared to meet the IRFU and Fáilte Ireland. We must bring every stakeholder on board. People have referred to shared facilities, as did Deputy Dooley. He was correct to do so. Everyone is open to helping the country and I do not doubt that every sporting organisation would play its part and make its facilities available if we drew a major international tournament to Ireland.

I welcome the Government's support for the idea that Ireland could host the world cup. In the Minister of State's informal discussions with the IRFU, has it indicated what type of bid it might make? He mentioned the suggestion of co-hosting with Wales or some of our nearest neighbours. From an Irish point of view, hosting it solely in Ireland would be the best option.

From his informal discussions with the GAA, does the Minister of State know whether it would be willing to make pitches other than Croke Park available? This suggestion would need to be approved at congress. The world cup would need to be held at a time when the GAA's championship season was not in operation, as the former could not be seen to interfere with the latter.

I have been involved in sports and the GAA for many years and I supported the opening up of Croke Park. I would support this suggestion in any of my roles. I welcome the Deputies' articulation of their support.

The IRFU's chief executive has been quoted in newspaper articles as saying that it would need to consider the issue and discuss it with the Government. We have held informal negotiations, but I cannot go into more detail on those.

My answer to the Deputy's question on the GAA is "No". First, the IRFU must decide whether it wants to make a bid. Second, it must discuss the matter with the Government to determine whether we would support such a bid. Third, we must discuss it with Fáilte Ireland to determine whether we can provide funding. The host country makes a large guarantee and puts up a lot of money.

As Deputies have stated, it is worth bidding for the world cup. Doing this would show us to be a mature nation with facilities. Irrespective of whether we make a single or joint application with Wales or Scotland, the idea is worth investigation. If the IRFU approaches the Minister and I we will discuss the idea with it. If the IRFU decides to make a bid, the State will need to give that bid its full support.

I am pleased to learn that the Government would support such an initiative. Rugby has been doing well in Ireland and Irish clubs have been progressing well through the Heineken Cup and world cup. Does the Minister of State agree that the world cup would be an opportunity to showcase our country as well as facilities such as Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium?

It would be a great opportunity for tourism, culture and business. Irish companies have gained between €250 million and €500 million through building stadia for the Olympics in Britain. The same would occur in Ireland, leading to employment and business for hotels, for example. The world cup would showcase our small country's facilities. If New Zealand can do it, I do not know why Ireland cannot.

Pension Provisions

Charlie McConalogue


12Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the status of Aer Lingus’ pension deficit upon privatisation; if he will ensure that the taxpayer will not have to fund the deficit as a condition of the sale of the 25% stake; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16886/12]

Clare Daly


42Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport If the deficit in the Dublin Airport Authority/Aer Lingus/SR Technics pension scheme was a factor in the Government’s decision to sell its stake in Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16542/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 42 together.

The Deputies' questions relate to the Irish airlines superannuation scheme, IASS, and its relationship with the proposed sale of the Government's minority shareholding in Aer Lingus. The pension deficit in the IASS, the multi-employer scheme involving Aer Lingus, the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, and SR Technics, was not a factor in the Government's decision to sell its minority shareholding in Aer Lingus. The State's minority shareholding is not considered to be a strategic asset and the Government has decided to include it as part of its disposal of State assets programme.

As the Deputies will be aware, the McCarthy report also recommended that the Government dispose of its shareholding in Aer Lingus "as soon as is opportune". The exact timeframe for any sale has not been decided and it will only take place when conditions are favourable and at an acceptable price.

Full information concerning Aer Lingus's pension schemes was set out in the IPO prospectus prior to the flotation in September 2006.  Regarding the IASS, it stated that based on that last actuarial valuation of the scheme with an effective date of 31 March 2005, the scheme had a surplus of assets over liabilities in the region of €140 million. As the Deputies are aware, a great deal has changed in the financial markets since 2005 and the IASS now has a substantial deficit. This is clearly very worrying for the members and I urge all parties with an involvement in the matter to address the matter expeditiously.

There is no question of the taxpayer funding this deficit. Resolution of the funding difficulties in the scheme is a matter for the trustees, the companies participating in the scheme and the members. I understand that the parties are participating in discussions with the assistance of the Labour Relations Commission, LRC, in an effort to find a solution to the current difficulties. The Department is not a party to these discussions.

I thank the Minister for his clarity. While I accept the role of the trustees, I am disappointed that the Minister is not taking a more hands-on approach. He was right, in that the people who depend on these pensions are concerned. The belief was that the State would be involved as long as it retained a 25% shareholding in the company and that it would be prepared to ensure the pensioners' protection. Many of those in question worked hard and were responsible for building Aer Lingus and the airport authority, which has been successful domestically as well as overseas through Aer Rianta International, ARI. People had a legitimate expectation when they retired - some of them were quite young when they took packages - that their pensions would be secure and have been deeply traumatised and concerned by this situation.

Will the Minister take the earliest possible opportunity to provide certainty and security to people who worked for the State for many years? Having provided a great public service, they are now faced with significant levels of uncertainty.

I have not taken a hands-on approach because I do not want to create the impression that the State, Exchequer or taxpayer is in any way liable in this case. The taxpayer and the Exchequer are not liable for deficits in semi-State companies' pension funds, be that company the ESB, CIE or Bord Gáis. In this case the company is not even a semi-State. In this three-employer fund, one employer is entirely private and another is 75% private.

Responsibility for devising a proposal to address the deficit in the pension fund lies with the trustees. Many of those involved, from pensioners to members of the scheme who have not yet retired from the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, Aer Lingus and SR Technics, are my constituents. I want them to get their pensions and the situation to be resolved, but responsibility for devising a viable scheme lies with the trustees, not the Government.

There has been engagement between the trustees and the Department of Social Protection in respect of some important changes to pension legislation. I hope that Department will waste no time in making whatever changes are necessary to allow the situation to be resolved.

I welcome the Minister's explanation for his stance. He indicated that, since he did not expect the taxpayer to have a liability, he should remain at some remove from the situation. The people in question were effectively State employees. I understand the legislation underpinning the separation of the pension fund but the State ultimately has a liability. This will need to be addressed in some manner. If and when the Minister privatises Aer Lingus in line with the Government's decision, the capacity to raise revenue for the fund will be stripped from the trustees. It appears there will be a requirement for somebody to make good on the expectations of these individuals and I hope the Minister can provide certainty for the pensioners who currently are feeling very aggrieved.

The individuals in question are not State employees or public servants. The contributions they made through their working lives went into this pension fund. Public servants and officeholders make their pension contributions directly to the Exchequer, which subsequently pays their pensions. As the contributions in this case were made to a pension fund rather than the Exchequer, the responsibility falls to the fund's trustees to come up with a solution.

I believe the State has a responsibility to them because it is not right that people who are about to retire are being left high and dry. I have always been opposed to the sale of Aer Lingus and it is in our national interest to retain the remaining 25% of the company in State ownership. The airline has been a flagship for this country. Is the Minister aware of the newspaper reports on plans to sell slots in Germany to make up the pension deficit?

To clear up any confusion that may have arisen, there is no connection between the State's minority stake in Aer Lingus and the pension deficit. The size of the State's stake in Aer Lingus has no bearing on the situation. The taxpayer is not liable for deficits in private pension funds. That applies equally to CIE, Irish Rail, Cork Port and the other bodies which we are not considering for privatisation. As the contributions were not paid into the Exchequer, these are not public service pensions. The employees paid into a pension fund in the same way as one contributes to a private pension fund.

There are no slots in Germany or Dusseldorf. The Deputy may be referring to the possible sale of DAA's stake in Dusseldorf airport but I have no information on that. It was reported in a newspaper that trade unions favoured the sale of that State asset in order to replenish the pension fund. It is interesting that trade unions support the sale of State assets to replenish pension funds but not to invest in the economy.

The Minister argues that the individuals were employed by a State owned company rather than direct employees of the State. In truth, however, they were employees of the State, albeit at a remove created by the commercial semi-State structure. Another group of workers transferred from the Department of Transport to the DAA in the expectation that they would be employed on the same terms and conditions but, unfortunately, that did not apply. This is a separate issue of which the Minister will be aware through correspondence to his Department. It should have been addressed by the previous Government but it remains unresolved.

The State has a duty to these individuals because, like CIE, at the end of the day these are State companies. While the pension fund should have been able to cover their pensions, it is insufficient. One can argue this is an issue for the trustees to address but the State had control over the boards of these companies. I accept pension trustees operate outside of boards but the companies concerned invested insufficient money into their funds. As the companies failed to honour their obligations because of poor actuarial advice or other reasons, the funds are unable to meet the expectations of the workers. That was the fault of the companies and their boards. The blame cannot be heaped on the trustees, who are in the difficult position of dividing the loaves and fishes. I accept the Minister's points about legal responsibility but there certainly is a moral obligation on the State.

The reason for setting up State companies is because they can operate on a commercial basis. The State is the shareholder but they are not part of the public service and their workers are not State employees. The Exchequer is no more liable for their pension costs than the shareholders in Tesco or any other private company. The pension contributions were not paid to the State. They were paid into the pension fund.

There is an upside as well as a downside to working for a semi-State company. Employees of these companies do not have to pay the pension levy and they pay considerably less for their pensions than public servants. They were not bound by the pay cuts imposed on public servants or retirees from the service. They cannot have it both ways in terms of enjoying the benefits of State protection without taking the pay and pension cuts that come with being a public employee.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.