Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018: Report Stage (Resumed)

Debate resumed on amendment No. 48:
In page 10, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"(c) the likely effect of the identified noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions (if any) is thoroughly evaluated in relation to its projected impact on the well-being and health of local residents;".
- (Deputy Imelda Munster)

The Minister must have been out at Dublin Airport shooting down the drone. That is what delayed him coming here today. On a serious note, when there was traffic chaos in Gatwick Airport he said we had no reason to have any fears and that, in his opinion and on the advice available to him, this would not happen in Dublin. It is an appropriate issue to raise with the Minister today now that it has happened. Thankfully, there was only very minor disruption but the potential for much more serious disruption is there and given that we are talking about Dublin Airport today, I would like the Minister at some stage in his seven minute contribution to outline what he has done. He has convened a working group on the regulation of drones at Dublin Airport. How often has that group met? What recommendations has it brought forward to mitigate against something like this happening again because we cannot have our national airport brought to its knees by a drone that might only cost €50? Perhaps the Minister would address that.

Last night I was making the point that, unfortunately, given that there is disagreement between the residents and the DAA, any decision to change, amend or modify the existing planning conditions that have been introduced by An Bord Pleanála will revert to An Bord Pleanála. We can have full confidence in it as in the past An Bord Pleanála has acted in a very balanced manner. In respect of this section and the amendment on health, will the Minister clearly outline why he has tabled amendment No. 59, which is grouped with amendments from other colleagues, to this part of the Bill? Can we have confidence that this amendment is a direct result of what we sought on Committee Stage?

The Minister's handling of this entire Bill has been utterly shambolic. The residents who were in attendance last night, whose lives and health are on the line because of this, are shocked at the Minister's lack of knowledge and more particularly his lack of interest in these matters. The Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy O'Dowd, raised some very important questions last night on the matters raised by a number of us regarding the correspondence between Fingal County Council and the Department expressing its reluctance to be the competent authority for a number of reasons that we outlined last night.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien made the point, which was confusing for many people, that Fingal was problematic but that for some reason, at some stage last week, it was posed that if Fianna Fáil pressed ahead with Fingal County Council and its motions that the Government would withdraw the Bill. What is this nonsense? This is the first time I heard this.

If it is true, it should have been said on the floor of this House last week before we made the decision to appoint Fingal County Council as the competent authority.

We have not made that decision yet.

What I am hearing is Fianna Fáil expressing concerns about Fingal but facilitating a process whereby this House has already decided on Fingal in circumstances where serious questions now arise about Fingal's role in terms of it flagged to the Department its concern about that role. Residents who have requested information under freedom of information tell us that after that letter from AnnMarie Farrelly, which was in The Irish Times, there is no other evidence under freedom of information of other correspondence of any significance between the Department and the council. There were emails in February 2018 where the Department said it did not have a clue about the council's rate base and asked to be told a bit more about that excuse. There are huge questions here and this Bill is seriously compromised as a result of this. I want those issues answered but I also want Fianna Fáil to take note, it facilitated this appointment, so it must remedy that as well.

Continuing the discussion on the correspondence between Fingal County Council and the Department, the council stated that it had "an extensive remit in both shaping and determining the strategic direction of Dublin Airport", questioning, therefore, its independence to do the job. It also referenced the European legislation. The Minister replied that the letter was written in 2017, which we have confirmed. That makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.

Nothing has changed in the intervening period to make Fingal County Council independent of this process. The Minister also said last night that the council's concerns have now been addressed. How could its concerns have been addressed if the relationship has not changed in that time? The issue is not whether Fingal County Council's concerns have been addressed. The issue is whether the independence required to comply with EU Regulation No. 598/2014 has been addressed. There are serious questions to be answered here.

I asked a question last night and I did not get an answer in the Minister's response. I will ask it again and demand an answer. Did the Minister bring it to the attention of his colleagues and of the Taoiseach that this was a factor and that Fingal County Council had written to him? Were the Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues aware of this, because it is a very important matter? I asked about this last night and I am looking for an answer. I would be surprised if the Taoiseach was to run with this.

Fianna Fáil's position on this is that, although there are some concerns about Fingal County Council, An Bord Pleanála is there to pick up the tab if there is an issue. That is like saying it is okay for a judge who has a vested interest in a case to hear that case on the basis that there is an appeals mechanism. It is absolute nonsense.

The freedom of information correspondence on this matter is really disturbing. The reference from director of services, AnnMarie Farrelly, in respect of the 2018 rates bill for the DAA noted that it came to just under €18 million, which represents 14.76% of the total rates levied by Fingal County Council in 2018. It is a highly significant element of its income. The grave reservations this senior official had raise questions. I presume the whole Fingal management team had been entrusted with this role. It put it in an invidious situation.

Our Fianna Fáil colleagues are getting a reputation in this House as being the abstainers. It almost sounds like the name of an old showband or a rock group from the 1970s.

Deputy Broughan has always been a progressive.

The abstainers are abstaining right, left, and centre to keep this very shaky show on the road, as they did yesterday.

That is a memorable line.

This is clearly an area in which they could decide, if they wanted to, to go for the Commission for Aviation Regulation.

We made many changes on Committee Stage. If Deputy Broughan had been at any of the debates he would know that.

As I have said, the abstainers would be a good name for an old band.

The correspondence again shows the well-founded fears of Fingal County Council. One of my constituents has reminded me of the approximately 100 acres - I am not sure what that would be in hectares - of commercial land bought from NAMA located in the Dublin enterprise zone, which is right at the famous roundabout, the M1-M2 link at the Ward. This is one of many commercial conflicts of interest.

I tabled an amendment, No. 60, which was about having a dedicated health action plan based on the World Health Organization evidence. Deputies Munster and Clare Daly tabled similar amendments. One of those should be in the Bill. I have read SI 549 of 2018 again. Where is the reference to a health action plan? There were all kinds of comments, which I may come back to, but where are the health studies and the close invigilation of health? It is all missing. I certainly do not see it in this statutory instrument.

I will be quick, as I contributed last night. The health of residents and neighbours has to be paramount in all of this. I have lived beside the airport my whole life-----

So have I. I have worked in the airport as well.

-----and I know thousands of people who work in the airport. I am also someone who wants to see job growth and who recognises the fact that the airport is an important piece of national infrastructure. Perhaps it is not seen that way in Howth Head but people who are working and who are actually-----

This is total nonsense. The Ceann Comhairle should intervene.

He does not need to intervene.

I walked into the lobby against Deputy Darragh O'Brien's party with Deputy Brendan Ryan's brother-----

I told the Deputy not to invite interruptions.

------to defend the workers of Dublin Airport when Fianna Fáil was selling them down the river.

The clock is ticking.

I am not going to take that from Fianna Fáil. It is total crap. The Deputy does not even live on the flight path. What is he talking about?

I am actually on the flight path for the new runway.

It will be too bad if we have to suspend again. Deputy Darragh O'Brien should not invite interruptions and he should not interrupt.

I have not invited anything.

I am making a general statement.

Deputy Clare Daly makes a very fair point. To deal specifically with items that are of relevance to this Bill, our transport spokesperson tabled an amendment on Committee Stage, which I moved on his behalf, to establish a separate unit within Fingal County Council. This amendment was debated on Committee Stage and was unfortunately voted down by five votes to two. Those who were there will know that. I received a note from the Department which I circulated to the forum on 8 February. I have the written note to hand. It effectively says that, taking all of this together, the proposed amendment undermines the coherence of the appointment of Fingal County Council as the competent authority and that, while it would have to consider the matter, it is unlikely that the Government could allow the Bill to proceed on that basis. That is it in black and white. I circulated that.

It should have been discussed in the Chamber.

I circulated the exact note to the residents and to the group at the time. I actually put it on the floor of the House again yesterday, as did Deputy Troy. That is the unfortunate reality of it. We must now ensure, as we did yesterday evening, that residents' health is absolutely paramount in any surveys carried out in respect of decisions of the noise regulator. It has to be clear and transparent.

I understand where Deputy Brendan Ryan is coming from, but I am actually pleased that there is another arbiter involved. I am sure the Deputy is not saying that he does not want to have An Bord Pleanála involved at all, but it is good that it is there, should it be needed as an independent arbiter. If the DAA or residents take any further decision to the board, I would much rather that the board be involved than not.

I want to make reference to correspondence about which we heard yesterday evening and to the fact that at no stage did the Minister divulge or make reference to it. Is it not ironic that Fingal County Council had voiced the exact same concerns that many of us had voiced in respect of its capacity, its lack of in-house experience, and the fact that it determines planning applications and makes decisions? Many of us had raised all of those issues, including the issue of the potential for conflicts of interest arising from Dublin Airport being a source of revenue for the council. The reality is that the Minister made this decision in haste. I believe that is fair to say. He left it too late. All along he had been planning for the Irish Aviation Authority to be the competent authority. When he realised it was not permitted to carry out that function because it failed the independence test, he then rushed to Fingal County Council, completely ignoring the concerns it raised, the same concerns which many of us had raised. One has to ask again: how can Fingal County Council be truly independent in regulating an entity from which it receives an income? That income is quite substantial. The Minister may say that it is only 8% but 8% of a council's overall budget is pretty substantial.

The Minister has said that neither the Commission for Aviation Regulation nor Fingal County Council had the relevant expertise. If the Commission for Aviation Regulation is going to take on additional functions in the regulation of civil aviation, as we now know it will, would it not make perfect sense for it also to regulate noise?

It is not even surprising that the Minister did not flag the correspondence. The concerns Fingal County Council has aired are the same as the ones many of us have aired. It is disappointing but not surprising.

I have dealt with this issue before, but I want to be absolutely up-front with the House on it. As we said last night, the letter was written in 2017. It was well known to everybody that there was a discussion ongoing on the relative merits of Fingal County Council, the Commission for Aviation Regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency and anybody else. The letter expressed very sincere and perfectly legitimate concerns about Fingal County Council. The concerns were part of a discussion in which everybody was involved, publicly and privately. My officials were engaged intensively in discussions with all three of the main candidates and looking at other alternatives. When the issues arose, the issue of a conflict of interest which has been raised by everybody here was referred to one place, the Office of the Attorney General. That is the correct thing to do when such issues arise. The Office of the Attorney General which had rejected the Irish Aviation Authority as being conflicted came back and stated specifically that Fingal County Council would be given the all-clear. That is what happened.

It stated the exact same thing about the Commission for Aviation Regulation.

It was the correct action to take. Fingal County Council is on record as stating it is satisfied that the reservations have been met and that it is clearly in favour of being the noise regulator.

What record? There is no record.

The reservations have been met and satisfied. That is and will remain the situation. People should not raise the issue at this stage and say there is some secret. I have not been sitting on any letter.

The letter was not written to me. The discussion has been open and free. The issue of a conflict of interest has been resolved by the Attorney General.

Deputy Brendan Ryan has had his two minutes. All of the Deputies present have had their two minutes.

I may have had them, but if a specific question is asked and the Minister does not give an answer-----

We can ask it again in the next set.

Hold on. I do not know what the Minister meant by his remark, "Come on," in other words, move on. I want to treat everybody in the same - Ministers and Deputies.

Without fear or favour.

I do what I think is right. All I can say is that if questions were asked, they should be answered, but I have no control over the Minister.

Nobody has control over him.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 48; Staon, 0.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Breathnach, Declan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, James.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Imelda Munster and Denise Mitchell; Níl, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared carried.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 11, line 18, to delete “FCC” and substitute “the CAR”.

There are new circumstances; the Minister is refusing to answer questions. Fianna Fáil might want to change its tune.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 41; Níl, 47; Staon, 29.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Staon

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Breathnach, Declan.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Troy, Robert.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Clare Daly and Brendan Ryan; Níl, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 50 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 51, 52 and 90 to 92, inclusive, are related may be discussed together. Amendment No. 52 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 51. Amendments Nos. 90 and 92 are consequential.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 11, to delete lines 41 and 42, and in page 12, to delete lines 1 to 15 and substitute the following:

“(10) (a) The competent authority may, for the purposes of an assessment of the noise situation at the airport, by notice in writing direct the airport authority to carry out such assessments and give to it such information or plans arising from such assessments, or to give to it such other information or plans, or both, as specified in the notice, as the competent authority may reasonably require for those purposes.

(b) The airport authority shall comply with a direction given to it under paragraph (a) as soon as is practicable after it receives the notice concerned referred to in that paragraph.”.

Before I get into the substantive issue of the amendment I want to acknowledge the constructive proposals made by Fianna Fáil to strengthen the safeguards and to reinforce-----

(Interruptions).

Deputies, do not invite interruptions. The clock is ticking.

I want to reinforce the accountability, transparency and independence provisions of the regulator. There was extensive debate last night and last week about which was the right organisation to appoint as the noise regulator. While some of it was not particularly well-informed, a number of very important issues were raised, particularly by Deputy Troy, which I wish to address.

I am willing to acknowledge that he has been consistently on my case for the last number of years in relation to regulation and has been vocal on the matter of Fingal County Council, especially. Indeed, it is fair to say he was the first out of the blocks on this particular issue, which is something I should point out to other people in this House. I want to acknowledge this because, while there has been heavy criticism from the Deputy, he has brought forward some sensible ideas which have improved the Bill overall.

I want to contrast that with some of the loopy ideas which have come from other people in this House.

(Interruptions).

The Government amendments that were carried last week were a direct result of that engagement and serve to reinforce that the new regulatory regime will be fair for all stakeholders, will be seen to be fair and will be accountable to external assessment on that basis. The amendments passed include provision for a review to take place of the performance by the regulator of its functions under this Bill. The first such review must happen within seven years, and every five years thereafter. That first seven-year period is necessary to ensure the regulator and the appeals body have one full regulatory cycle under their belts, so that the first review can look at all aspects of how the structures have worked, including the assessment process, the consultation, the decision-making, any appeal and the monitoring. In practice, I expect the first review will happen sooner than this, but there is no point in forcing a review after three or five years and finding that it is too soon to provide a full picture of how things have worked and are working. The outcome of the review would be formally reported on that report to be published. If there are any matters of concern arising from the review, I would fully expect the Oireachtas committee to examine the matter further.

Furthermore, the amendments passed last week also provide that the regulator will produce an annual report detailing the work it has undertaken in the previous year and setting out its programme for the forthcoming year. This will be entirely separate from and in addition to any annual report produced by the council with regard to its other work.

I want to quickly come back to the matter of the references to health, which was an important debate. As I said, this Bill must be read in tandem with Regulation (EU) 598/2014 itself and with other related EU directives, including the environmental noise directive. All of these apply to Fingal County Council as the new noise regulator. I want to assure the House that in this Bill, as it is now drafted, whatever is decided at EU level in relation to the WHO guidelines will have full applicability to Fingal County Council, in its role as noise regulator. I have tried to explain that Ireland cannot move unilaterally on that front, when giving effect simultaneously to Regulation (EU) 598/2014 in this Bill.

Going back to the matter in hand, amendments Nos. 51 and 90 to 92, inclusive, introduce a practical and workable complaints procedure. In the first instance, under amendment No. 51, it would be a matter solely for the noise regulator to consider if there are grounds to review a noise assessment, where circumstances may have changed. It also gives power for the regulator to direct the airport authority to provide it with any necessary information it requires to undertake such an assessment.

Under amendment No. 91, a new subsection would be inserted into section 2, the section which relates to the regulator's monitoring powers. Under this new provision, any person can make a complaint to the regulator and ask it to review the effectiveness of noise mitigation measures which are in place. This provides for a mechanism by which a person with a genuine complaint has somewhere to go and be heard.

Amendment Nos. 90 and 92 are consequential to amendment No. 91. I note that my amendments have the effect of replacing Deputy Clare Daly's amendment on Committee Stage. The intention of that amendment, however, is retained and expanded on.

In summary, only the regulator can consider if there is good reason to open a regulatory decision in between the five-year regulatory cycle, but any person can complain to the regulator at any point and request an investigation into non-compliance with a regulatory decision.

It is unfortunate the way this group of amendments have morphed a little bit and strayed. When this Bill was first drafted there was no facility whatsoever for residents to make representations to the competent authority. The Bill provided that the DAA could go to the competent authority and ask it to assess the situation. The select committee agreed with my amendments on Committee Stage and put in a provision for residents to be able to do that.

However, there was another part to that, that the decision on whether or not to investigate a complaint rested solely with the competent authority, which would decide whether or not to conduct an assessment. I do not have a particular problem with that. There may be spurious complaints and we do not want the authority to have to go through a full investigation. However, what I am merely providing for is that in the event that it decides not to carry out an assessment, it needs to inform the person in writing as to the reason for that. The way the Department has drafted these amendments means there is no facility that bit to go in, unless it goes into the original text, which the Department has dramatically changed by splitting it into two parts. I want to hear from the Minister that the bit about it being in writing will be resubmitted with amendments Nos. 90 and 91 in the Seanad to properly deal with this issue. If it is not, we have a bigger problem, and I will come back to that.

On the matters the Minister spent most of his time dealing with, clearly the officials had time to write the speaking note to deal with some of the issues he was not able to deal with when they were raised on the floor of the House. We have a substantial problem, as do the residents, with the perceived lack of independence of Fingal County Council being the competent authority. The Minister's responses to us have not been adequate. He got very blustered and

said that it was all history because when Fingal County Council's senior official wrote expressing these concerns, the Attorney General came back and said that there were no conflict of interest. Therefore, the matter was over. The Minister is, however, patently ignoring what the official said. She did not just raise an issue of a conflict of interest. She also raised the issue that Fingal County Council did not have the requisite competencies available of aviation operations noise and economic feasibility assessments and that another independent organisation would be better. That was in November 2017. On 30 January, the Minister announced Fingal County Council as the competent authority. In terms of freedom of information, and conveniently the freedom of information officer is on holiday this week, so cannot clarify this, no records have emerged to date of any meetings between Fingal County Council and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to address those issues the Minister said were extensively discussed with the three candidates, the other two being the EPA and the Commission for Aviation Regulation Ireland, CAR. Interestingly enough, there is no information under freedom of information about any intensive discussions with them either.

Can the Minister explain how, between November and his announcement in January, all these issues were addressed, particularly when we have correspondence under freedom of information where his senior official wrote back to Fingal County Council? This was in May more than two weeks after he made the announcement about Fingal County Council. It read:

Hi AnnMarie

See the link below. This issue about independence is likely to have prominence.

The link was to a debate that took place in Fingal County Council, where the elected councillors expressed concern about the lack, or perceived lack, of independence of their council. The official in the Minister's Department went on to say that the Minister was, of course, defending this robustly. I have not seen much evidence of that but we will park that. The letter stated, "Any help you might be able to give around defensive points would be appreciated". It further stated: "For example, as a starting point, I do not know if the proportion of Fingal rates that it is claimed is paid by the DAA - 20% - is correct." If the senior official dealing with this issue, after the date the Minister announced Fingal County Council as the competent authority, did not know the level of rate base of Fingal County Council, and its reliance on the DAA, and the Minister does not think that is a problem, then I think there is something seriously wrong with him, to be honest about it.

It is a fundamental problem and shows that the points about Fingal County Council's independence have not been adequately addressed. We do not have to rely on that correspondence alone. We also have correspondence from the EU expressing its concerns about the issue of independence. The Minister is saying that everything is okay and the issues have been addressed because the Attorney General said that there was not a conflict of interest. Let us say that we accept that, but the Attorney General did not say that there would be a conflict of interest with the Commission for Aviation Regulation or the EPA either. The conflict of interest issue is not the only consideration, as the competent authority also has to have expertise.

We now have a major problem because of the manner in which this issue has been handled. In that sense, the complaints procedure takes on even greater prominence. When the Minister's own Government colleague and Chair of the Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport asks questions about letters and this information not being brought before the committee, it is an unprecedented problem. The manner of the Bill's handling in the House has been shambolic from start to finish. In some ways, my heart goes out to the officials. It is a difficult job, but we have tried to engage. I recognise that we have made improvements to the Bill, but if the Minister believes he can shout and roar in the Chamber and say that there is no conflict of interest and that the Attorney General will address the issues we have raised, he is wrong. Will he please address the issues that Deputies across the Opposition benches have raised about these points?

Next is Deputy Darragh O'Brien, whom I will be calling on in approximately a minute to adjourn the debate.

I agree with Deputy Clare Daly, in that the structure of the competent authority has not been clarified. I have raised this issue with the Minister. We have discussed levels of competence, experience and so on with the officials. We have been told that there would be consultations on same. A great deal more work is needed on these matters.

On Committee Stage, amendments were passed regarding the making of complaints. It is good that we will have an authority to which residents can make a complaint, as that has been a major issue, with the DAA effectively being the only avenue open to people to date to make complaints. Most of us would agree that the majority of complaints have not been heard fairly.

The issue of complaints receiving written responses if the competent authority decided that a complaint was spurious or that it would not proceed with an investigation was the spirit of the Committee Stage debate. My colleagues in Fianna Fáil and I supported Deputy Clare Daly strongly on that amendment. While we acknowledge that there will be somewhere to make a complaint to and that the competent authority will be able to decide whether there is enough in the complaint to take the matter a step further, we agreed on Committee Stage that, if the authority decided that it could not or would not proceed, a written explanation would be given. That should be the bottom line. We understand that spurious complaints can be made and, hence, we were not saying that the competent authority had to investigate every complaint, but if there is a reason for it being unable or unwilling to investigate, that needs to be explained to the complainant in writing.

I support the request that, when the Bill is before the Seanad-----

We need a commitment.

Yes. Does the Leas-Cheann Comhairle want me to adjourn the debate?

Yes. The Deputy will have five minutes to continue when the debate resumes.

Debate adjourned.