Priority Questions

Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

1. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the expert review of the Irish airlines superannuation scheme dispute; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15169/14]

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport does not need me to tell him about the seriousness of the situation at our State airports in regard to the superannuation scheme, the impact it is having on workers' morale or the potential impact of an unresolved dispute on our tourism industry. A flash point was reached recently which saw Aer Lingus and other airlines making alternative arrangements in the context of a potentially significant impact on our tourism product and the image of our country. It is incumbent on all of us that the issue be resolved without delay. I ask the Minister to outline the current status of the process of establishing a committee to investigate the issue.

The expert panel was appointed on 3 March following consultations between my Department and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation with IBEC and ICTU.  The panel was asked to carry out an investigation into how a final resolution of the industrial relations issues with the IAS scheme can be secured.  Last Monday, the panel made a preliminary report to the two Departments, IBEC and ICTU. The panel also issued a statement summarising the progress of its work to date.

 The panel has held a series of meetings with all the relevant parties including the DAA, Shannon Airport, Aer Lingus, the trade unions and representatives of deferred members and pensioners.  Through these meetings, it has identified a number of critical issues that it believes should now be jointly explored to deepen its understanding of the scope for progress among the parties. Intensive discussions on these issues are already under way and the panel will report back by 14 April.  It is important these discussions and deliberations be allowed proceed over the coming weeks without interference so that a resolution can be found to this long-standing and complex issue.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have no formal function in the resolution of the funding difficulties of the IAS scheme. This is primarily a matter for the trustees, the members of the scheme, the companies participating in the scheme and the regulator of such pension schemes, namely, the Pensions Board. The purpose of the expert panel is to identify the critical issues and facilitate the parties in finding a solution. In circumstances where this work is still under way, the threat of industrial or legal action between the parties is not helpful. I hope that all the parties involved will put all their efforts into engaging with the expert panel in order to find the most feasible and equitable solution to this matter in a timely manner. This would be in the best interests of all parties.

I welcomed the appointment of the independent review panel and I broadly support the approach that the Minister is taking. He has indicated that the panel is next due to report on 14 April. Does he expect it to issue a conclusive report at that stage? Will it have the capacity to reach a binding agreement or solution and, if not, what machinery of State will he use to bring about an appropriate resolution? I accept that he does not control the scheme but he has indicated in the past that if he had control of it he would have solved the problem a long time ago. Perhaps he will outline to the House the solution he has to bring the issue to a speedy conclusion in light of the considerable trepidation in the tourism sector and among workers and pensioners, who are deeply concerned about their future.

There is a potential to resolve the problem in the pension scheme. A significant deficit has arisen over the years because the company and former staff did not put enough into the scheme to match the benefits that were expected or promised. Deficits that accrued in similar schemes in the private sector and semi-State sector have been resolved by companies investing more money and beneficiaries accepting reduced benefits. The current problem arises because the deficit is so big that what is being asked from the company, staff and former staff is also very big. That is the space in which the solution has to be found, however. The expert panel is due to report to us on 14 April. The parties are currently quite far apart. The expert panel can make recommendations but it cannot impose them. What will be required after that will be decisions by the trustees and, probably, ballots by the existing workers if not also by other members of the scheme. As there is a soft deadline of June because of pension rules and regulations, the issue will need to be resolved by then and, of course, there is a risk of industrial action in the meantime.

I agree that the issue needs to be resolved but the Minister is not a hurler on the ditch who has handed the entire responsibility for the matter to the trustees. As one of the biggest shareholders in Aer Lingus and the sole shareholder in DAA, he is a significant actor in this game. I urge him to engage to the fullest extent to ensure the State is prepared to man up to its responsibilities. He stated that the pension fund has not been adequately resourced over the years and suggested that was an issues for the funders, one of which is the State. He has a responsibility to the workers who took pay cuts and accepted pay restraints in the expectation that when they reached pension age they would receive an appropriate level of benefits. Unfortunately, it is now clear to many of them that their working lives have not provided them with the capacity to retire in the manner they expected. The State shares a responsibility in this regard. Given that the Minister is at the coalface on this issue, I urge him to provide the appropriate level of funding to meet the State's responsibility.

I am certainly not a hurler on the ditch or a bystander.

I have worked with others to establish an expert panel to try to find a solution, but I cannot dictate a solution. I am a player, but I am not in charge.

The Deputy is right. I feel we have a responsibility to the workers to ensure they get some security in regard to their pensions. However, I also have a responsibility to taxpayers. It must be borne in mind that the Aer Lingus stake belongs to the 4.5 million citizens of this State, as does the stake in the airports. I cannot stand over a situation whereby Aer Lingus, the DAA and Shannon are devalued or put in a precarious financial position in order to secure benefits for a few thousand people at the expense of 4.5 million citizens. I must have regard to my responsibilities to everyone in the State, all the taxpayers and citizens, not just one group of employees or former employees.

Public Transport Provision

Dessie Ellis

Ceist:

2. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will ensure that the tendering of 10% of all PSO bus routes and 100% of Waterford city bus services will not further undermine the wider public transport network and lead to wholesale privatisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15405/14]

There is a big fear among people that the tendering of 10% of all routes and approximately 100% of the Waterford City bus routes will further undermine the public transport network and will lead to wholesale privatisation. Will the Minister make a statement on this issue because there are huge concerns about it?

Neither Dublin Bus nor Bus Éireann is being or will be privatised over the lifetime of this Government. In fact, they will have a guaranteed level of public service funding up to 2019.

The direct award contracts for the provision of public service obligation, PSO, services held by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann expire later this year. The awarding of subsequent contracts is the statutory responsibility of the National Transport Authority, NTA. In accordance with the decision made by the NTA board in December last on the arrangements for the award of public transport contracts after December 2014, all Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann routes will be included in the new five year direct award contracts which the NTA will enter into with the companies next December. However, the NTA announced that 10% of publicly subvented bus services will only remain within the direct award contracts until the end of 2016, after which they will be operated under separate contracts that will have been competitively tendered. It must be recognised that the tendering decisions announced by the NTA are relatively modest and there will be a long lead-in before they take effect. Furthermore, it is open to the two incumbent companies to compete for any tendered routes and I am confident they will make strong bids.

The NTA considered it to be in the public interest to leave Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann with a scale of operation which remains efficient for each company’s resources and overheads. The NTA has determined that tendering about 10% of the market presents little, if any, risk to Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann’s overall operations while giving the opportunity to test market pricing, offer opportunities to improve efficiency and customer service, as well as the possibility, subject to the outcome of the competition, of bringing new operators into the market, and enabling benchmarking. No service changes will occur as a result of this process as it will still be the State, in the form of the NTA, that will determine the schedules, the frequency, the vehicle types and standards, the fares and the customer service requirements. This is the key message we need to promote.

Sinn Féin is opposed to privatisation, in particular privatisation by stealth which seems to be happening across the transport service, particularly with Dublin Bus. This is happening at a time when Dublin Bus has made massive strides forward and passenger numbers have risen significantly and continue to rise. I do not believe for a minute that private companies can do what Dublin Bus has done. The evidence across Europe is that Dublin Bus is up there in terms of competition, how it is run and how efficient it is. There is no doubt about this. I met officials from Dublin Bus the other day and they confirmed this.

Will the Deputy please put his question?

There is serious concern about this. The Minister of State mentioned there will be no further cuts to the PSO in 2015. Will he guarantee for us no more money will be removed, making it more difficult to enforce cutbacks?

I have outlined what will happen in regard to the contracts and the public service obligation, PSO, up to 2016 and then to 2019. There is a plan in place for up to 2019. The key message that needs to be brought out here is that at all times the National Transport Authority must act within the law. Both European law and the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 set down strict criteria under which the NTA must operate. Where the NTA proposes to enter into further direct award contracts for bus services, it is obliged to carry out statutory consultation under the Act. It has done that. Under the legislation, if the NTA proposes to enter into direct award contracts, it "may only do so where it is satisfied that the continued adequacy of the public bus passenger services to which the contracts relate can only be guaranteed in the general economic interest by entering into such direct award contracts". If it is not satisfied, it must provide for some level of competitive tendering. This is what is happening, but on a modest scale. There are no further plans to change what has been announced by the NTA in the past few months.

The Minister of State says there has been little change made, but 100% of Bus Éireann's Waterford routes are being put out to tender and 10% of routes across the board are being put out to tender. There are huge implications if these routes go to private companies. It has been suggested that anybody can tender for the routes, including Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, but I believe this move is a smokescreen for privatisation.

In regard to the bus rapid transport, BRT, plans, is it guaranteed this will be given to Dublin Bus? This is an important scheme. Will the Minister of State guarantee that if it goes ahead, it will be given to Dublin Bus or is it likely that it will go the same road of seeking the best tender? We do not always get the best results when we go down the route of direct award contracts.

I outlined earlier how this will work up until 2019. In regard to BRT, Dublin Bus will be the operator. We need to get the message across that the NTA in deciding to open up only up to 10% of routes for competition is ensuring that this will have a minimum impact on Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus from the point of view of scale. The NTA will have complete control over this process and all issues relating to public transport to ensure quality of service is maintained. Given the legislation that guides this issue at national and European level, this decision has been handled quite well and it is a modest opening up of the market.

Vehicle Clamping

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

3. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if, in relation to the regulation of clamping in the State, he has considered following the example in England and Wales where clamping on private land was outlawed recently; if he has further examined the same system in Scotland which has been in place since 1992 to determine the benefits of a similar arrangement here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15337/14]

This question relates to clamping on private land, a practice which was outlawed in Scotland in 1992 and outlawed in England and Wales in 2013. A plethora of clamping companies is employed to clamp vehicles here. This question is not about paying for parking, but about this punitive sanction of clamping. Will the Minister consider outlawing the practice as has been done in other countries so that we can have a fairer approach to parking on private land?

The programme for Government contains a commitment “to legislate to regulate the vehicle clamping industry”. This builds on the work that my party, in particular my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, carried out in opposition in the form of a Private Members' Bill. I understand that in England, Wales and Scotland clamping is in general banned. However, there is no evidence to suggest that clamping cannot be properly employed for the common good. I believe that, if used as part of a controlled and responsible parking enforcement regime and if appropriately regulated by the State, clamping can modify parking behaviour and serve to encourage proper use of parking facilities.

Prior to the introduction of clamping in Dublin, the problems associated with illegal parking were endemic, causing difficulties for residents and traders alike who could not access parking during business hours as metered spaces were often occupied by all-day commuters. Contrasting Dublin before the introduction of clamping with today, it is evident that the use of clamping as an instrument of public parking policy has been highly effective.

In 2011, I asked the then Joint Committee on Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht, of which the Deputy was a member, to take a role in the pre-heads of Bill stage and to contribute to the initial drafting of legislation.

The committee carried out a number of hearings on the matter and published detailed recommendations on the issues that should be included in the legislation.

In March 2013, the Government approved the drafting of a regulation of vehicle immobilisation Bill. This is now with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. As this is a complex area of law, dealing with issues concerning private property rights, drafting has taken longer than I initially had hoped. I expect to publish the Bill in the coming months and look forward to debating it in the House.

The principal provisions of the Bill will require adequate advisory signage in locations where clamping is in operation, set maximum clamp release periods and fees, and establish an independent appeals process. These provisions will apply to clamping activities on property where the public has an invitation to park as of right or subject to terms and conditions.

First, there is a big difference between clamping on-street and clamping in a private location. We are seeing it being used as a sanction in all sorts of situations, including apartment blocks.

In villages and towns where clamping is applied, often one finds two or three different clamping companies, perhaps in addition to the local authority operating a pay parking system, and it causes confusion. There must be symmetry in the messages motorists receive. There cannot be a range of different types of advice notices for them.

Often when a motorist has been clamped once and must pay €120 or €130 to release the clamp, he or she will never go back to that location again and it does considerable damage to the business sector in areas where there is that confusion. I would like to know what is different about private property in this country that is not the case in England, Scotland and Wales.

We are both agreed that there is a difference between clamping on a public road or public property and in a private space. It is a judgment call as to whether one prohibits the latter. In my constituency, there are a lot of apartment buildings near train stations and before clamping was introduced in them, those who lived there could not park in their own development and their visitors could not visit them because commuters were using those private developments to park for the train station. As a result, clamping was brought in and has been effective. Similarly, there is a shopping centre in my constituency where people could not park to go to the shops in the car park paid for by the shops because motorists were using it for commuter parking purposes. Since they have brought in clamping, people can go to the shops and park in the car park for that purpose. It is a judgment call, but there is on balance room for regulated clamping on private property.

The legislation, which I hope to publish before the recess, will address the issue Deputy Catherine Murphy mentions where there are different companies doing different things. It will bring in standards, a maximum fee, rules around signage and an independent appeals mechanism.

I am quite sure the same applies to apartment blocks and higher density developments being close to the like of railway stations in England, Scotland and Wales. I am sure it is possible to get a sanction other than a clamping sanction, which both discommodes people and is a lazy sanction. It is difficult to appeal some of these. I would have had some engagement with constituents who have tried to deal with some of these companies, and in some cases it is impossible.

I engaged in the preplanning of this particular legislation and would have made suggestions. I am hopeful there will be some positive developments and I welcome what the Minister is talking about. I tend to think of clamping as a lazy option and regulation can only go so far. It may well be that we end up doing this in a piecemeal way and it will ultimately be required to be outlawed, but I do not understand where the treatment of private land differs from other countries that would be similar to us.

We are different jurisdictions. It is up to us to make different decisions if we want to, even if the circumstances are the same. That is the nature of sovereignty.

The alternative to clamping, as the Deputy will be aware, is a fines system where one puts a fine notice on a car and one must bring the person through the courts. That is more cumbersome, expensive and probably less effective than clamping in terms of deterrence. What drove behavioural change in irregular or illegal parking was clamping. When motorists were merely given a fixed charge notice, there were all sorts of problems.

Sports Capital Programme Administration

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

4. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the assessment procedure followed and the objective criteria used in deciding on the allocation of funding under the sports capital programme. [15375/14]

In the interests of transparency, can the Minister outline the assessment procedure followed and the objective criteria used in developing a scoring criteria or model for the sports capital programme?

The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, sends his regrets. He is in Milan promoting the launch of the Giro d'Italia and I am representing him today.

All applications received under the 2014 sports capital programme will be assessed by my officials in the Department. Every application will be assessed by one official and then reviewed by another member of staff. Given the number of applications received and the detail contained therein, this process will take a number of months.

Applications are first checked to ensure eligibility, and eligible applications are than initially assessed against five criteria: the likelihood of increasing participation and-or improving performance and sharing of facilities; the level of socioeconomic disadvantage in the area; the technical merits of the project; the level of own funding available; and the level of sports capital programme funding received by the applicant in the past, with the preference for those who have not received funding. These criteria are designed to give higher scores to applications that will increase participation, where facilities will be shared, that are from designated disadvantaged areas, that is, RAPID areas and CLÁR areas, that have not received substantial funding in the past and are ready to be progressed as soon as possible.

I get the piece that one official looks at the application to see whether it is eligible and that it meets the criteria and a number of others review that. At what point is a number or a scoring reference given to the individual application?

The first step is to see that the applications are eligible, that they have the title to the land, the matching funds, a bank account, tax clearance, etc. After that, only if they are eligible, it is scored based on a certain criteria. It is checked by a second official to ensure the first official did it correctly.

The scores do not necessarily determine the decision on funding. One might find that the highest scored project would take up all the funding and, therefore, it is up to the Minister to decide not to fund that and, for example, give funding to six other projects instead, or one might find that the scores result in all the funding going to the GAA and nothing for anyone else, at which point the Minister has discretion to spread the funding out more evenly.

To be clear, the scoring is carried out by officials of the Department and the Minister takes the pot of money and, effectively, distributes the loaves and fishes. Does he refer to the score or not?

The scores are put in brackets. For example, the difference between getting seven out of 50 and eight out of 50 is not much. They are put in categories based on their score. After that, the Minister must have regard to the scores but then must make a decision. As Deputy Dooley stated, it is loaves and fishes. Sometimes one may find, for example, that one has €1 million for a particular county, the highest scoring project costs €1 million and one either gives everything to that or one decides not to fund that and to fund seven other projects instead. One may decide that one wants to distribute the funding better throughout the county or that one wants to ensure the different codes get some funding. The Minister must have regard to the scores and certainly cannot fund an ineligible application. I understand that under the previous Administration ineligible applications were funded. That has not happened under this Administration.

Roughly speaking, give or take 10% or 20%, amounts are allocated to each county according to its population and it is never the case that the county in which the Minister is resident can get twice the amount of funding of another country.

Is it correct to say this is a change from the procedures used under the previous Administration? Am I right to say that under the previous Administration, the civil servants carried out the scoring and recommended the allocation of funding? It seems it is only this Administration that carries out the process of distributing the funds but will the Minister confirm that?

Under this and the previous Administration, the scoring was done by the civil servants. Under the previous Administration, ineligible and invalid applications were funded on some occasions but that no longer happens. Under this Administration, a particular effort has been made to ensure there is a roughly equal distribution per capita in counties, as that was not the case in the past.

Will the Minister clarify that under the previous Administration, the notional allocation of funding was done by the Civil Service rather than the Minister? The departure seen in the Minister's tenure is the allocation of money at a political level by the Minister rather than by permanent officials.

I am not sure how this was done in the past. The Minister now gets the scores.

They are done by officials. The amounts are put against those scores. We should bear in mind that the amounts in question are by and large those requested by clubs in the first place. It is not that an official or Minister decides the amount, as it is the amount requested by the applicant.

It would be a first in my experience if a club got everything it asked for. I understand now that somebody at a political level completes the process of distributing the pot of money across projects. I accept that the Minister argues it relates to scores but that is a departure from the existing practice. It is a worrying development as it brings politics much deeper in the allocation of funds.

It is the case that clubs get what they request on occasion. For example, there was not enough valid applications from Dublin last time, so any valid application from the county got what it asked for.

It is an advantage having a Minister in the constituency.

Dublin got a fair share for a change.

Public Private Partnerships Cost

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

5. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the total sums paid by the State to each toll operator per year for the previous seven years and in 2014 to date under the terms of a minimum traffic guarantee clause entered into in respect of the Limerick tunnel and the M3 motorway; if this arrangement is a violation of the principles of EU state aid regulations; if he will indicate the terms of the exception received from the Commission to allow this system to operate; if he has investigated the example in Portugal where in 2010 such arrangements were successfully ended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15382/14]

This relates to secondary or shadow tolling and I refer particularly to the Limerick tunnel and the M3. The State pays the companies which developed those facilities an amount to compensate for fewer vehicles using them than anticipated.

The contracts for the privately-operated toll schemes are commercial agreements between the National Roads Authority, NRA, which has statutory responsibility in this area, and the public-private partnership concessionaires concerned.  The M3 and Limerick tunnel schemes commenced operations in 2010. The NRA has provided me with details of the traffic guarantee payments payable per year since and I will provide these in a table below. The proposed traffic guarantee provisions were the subject of a State aid notification in 2006 and the EU Commission decision on the notification was to consider the aid to be compatible with the European treaties.

As regards the position in Portugal, I understand there were specific conditions relating to the scale of the public private partnership programme and the nature of the contracts that resulted in the renegotiation of contracts.  As the Deputy will appreciate there is a contract in place between the State, in this case represented by the NRA, and the two public-private partnership companies. This contract cannot be unilaterally changed by either party and can only be done by agreement.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Year

Limerick Tunnel (€)

M3 (€)

2010

1,242,793

524,311

2011

4,453,979

1,859,404

2012

4,971,435

2,492,733

2013

5,190,068

2,659,264

I have a rough idea of some amounts from 2011 but I seek updated figures. The NRA withheld information about the minimum guaranteed amounts during oral hearings with the public. Several people have told me vehicle numbers were inflated and took no account of a possible downturn. Has the Minister dismissed the prospect of seeking a renegotiation on the Portuguese basis? The European Commission in that case argued that there was State aid. If the figures were wrong and the public was excluded from the processing mechanism, would there be a basis for renegotiating those contracts? Approximately €4.7 million was paid in one instance in 2012 - I will get the updated figures - and I know the Minister and his colleagues could spend that very large amount very wisely if it could be freed.

For the Limerick tunnel, some €5.2 million was paid in 2013, with €2.659 million being paid for the M3. The amount is increasing. The Deputy is right in that this was a bad deal. Not only did the deal not take account of the possibility of a downturn but it assumed the economy and therefore traffic would continue to grow forever. Much capital development in Ireland was done on that basis and there has been much cost for infrastructure we possibly did not need.

I considered the possibility of renegotiation but came down against it for two reasons. First, I have nothing to offer and in any negotiation there must something offered in order to get something in return. I have nothing I want to give the companies in question. I spoke to my Portuguese colleague and what has happened there is quite different. The country had a system of shadow tolls, with the Portuguese Government paying the toll for the driver. As part of the renegotiation, new tolling points were introduced but I have decided against that. I do not intend to introduce any new tolling points anywhere in the country during my term of office. It was the Portuguese solution but I do not favour it.

There is another important point. I am trying to get private sector funders to invest in public-private partnerships again. I was very keen to initiate the projects at Newlands Cross - which the Deputy knows very well - and Rathnew going and they have been started. I am keen to get the Gort to Tuam route started in the next few months. The one way to ensure this cannot happen is to try to break deals already made with similar or the same companies. That would destroy confidence in the public-private partnership process and funding will not come if funders are concerned that the Government will try to change a deal in five years. If funding is received in such a case, there will be a premium because companies will factor in the risk.

The deal was flawed from the outset. Will the Minister review the figures on what was provided? If there is a flaw in them, the contract would not be as robust as the Minister states. A review could open opportunities in that respect. The deal was not only fundamentally flawed from an economic perspective as we need decreasing numbers of vehicles on the road if we are to deal with climate change. We are at variation with European obligations in that respect as well. The issues have changed so I ask the Minister to carry out that review.

I am not arguing with the Deputy's implication that this was a bad deal. In fairness to the previous Administration, most people at the time believed the economy would continue to grow and very few predicted the scale of collapse that occurred. I can review the contracts but when we did so before, they were solid and had EU approval with respect to State aid. It is very difficult to see a basis for renegotiation on a legal technicality or similar grounds.

With regard to the Limerick tunnel, there was a toll holiday last November which resulted in a 20% increase in the number of trucks going through toll plazas but the increase was 70% in Limerick. The heavy goods vehicles are going through Limerick to avoid that toll.

Ironically, one way to reduce the traffic guaranteed payments would be paying the tolls and making it toll-free for HGVs to use the Limerick tunnel. Even though the Government would then have to pay the tolls the trucks would have paid to the company the fact more trucks would be going through would reduce the traffic guarantee. This is one option we are considering.