Seanad amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and the amendments to those amendments, are related and may be discussed together.
Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018: From the Seanad
I move amendment No. 1 to Seanad amendment No. 1:
After “lines 2 to 4”, to insert the following:
“and substitute the following:
‘(c) the likely effect of the identified noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions (if any) on the well-being and health of local residents is thoroughly evaluated;’.”.
On the matter of the proposal to discuss these amendments together, we are at the point where we have spent a great deal of time on this Bill. It has been through all Stages in the Dáil and the Seanad and is now back here. We are down to five or six amendments. While there is occasionally a case for dealing with amendments in groups in circumstances where there are so many that we need to do that, all of the individual amendments here are quite different. I would be opposed to grouping them together for discussion.
I support Deputy Brendan Ryan in that proposition. We have been on a long, tortuous route. On Tuesday, we put on the record at the meeting of the Business Committee the fact that we were faced with an unprecedented situation. The Government seemed to be hell bent on ramming this Bill through today even though the Seanad had not concluded its deliberations on it at that point. We spent hours in the Dáil having considerable discussions on why we needed to include measures to protect the health of citizens. The amendments that are being grouped now are different in their detail. Perhaps some could be kept and others not but they are definitely meritorious of individual discussion. If we were to group them now, it would be another indication to residents and people looking in that we are not dealing adequately with this legislation. We should really take the amendments individually. There are only about six potential votes here. The amendments should be taken separately because there are separate arguments involved.
I am anxious to facilitate Members but normally when amendments are grouped as they are here, I have never seen the grouping departed from. It is the established practice. I am quite content to ensure that whatever time is required to discuss each of the amendments is provided and I will not be trying to curtail people's contributions. We would be setting a dangerous precedent if we were to depart from established practice. I am looking at the salient rulings of the Chair, details of which I will spare the Deputies. I am of the view that what I have suggested represents the best way to move forward. We will start with amendment No. 1. Any contributions the Deputies have to make on any of them, we will hear. We are on Committee Stage, so there is no time limit.
At this point, it is very important for the people who have taken a keen interest in this to know what is going on. My experience with the Minister is that during discussion of a group of amendments, it is not clear what is the nature of his response to individual amendments. We must have certainty around this. We are only dealing with six amendments. With the agreement of the House, notwithstanding precedent or the normal course of action, I think we can agree between us that we should deal with these one by one.
Let us deal with them one by one if that is what Members want.
Can we not discuss them together? Does the Minister wish to comment?
I am very anxious to accommodate Members but I am not agreeable to taking them one by one because that is not the form in which they have been presented to me. I will give as full an explanation as I can in respect of all of them. I looked at the groupings and thought they were perfectly reasonable because they are all on closely related matters.
The Minister is not in agreement. We will deal with the amendments as grouped and if Members feel that an issue is not being adequately considered, we can come back to it.
If we are to proceed along the lines proposed, it is important that the Minister would clearly state his response to each amendment.
I am sure the Minister will do so. There will be no ambiguity.
Can we reserve the right to re-enter this debate if that is not the case because a major part of the problem with the Bill has been the Minister's inadequate responses to Deputies' points on various Stages. I am happy to proceed on the basis proposed but if he does not respond as proposed, I will rise again on this issue.
Nobody in the Chair can oblige the Minister to give a particular answer that meets another Member's satisfaction.
I know that. Any answer will do.
It has been the tradition of the Minister to answer frankly and comprehensively. We will now discuss amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive.
On my amendment, the Minister has sought to delete an element of the Bill that is important to us in opposition and to the people affected by this legislation. In reviewing the amendments from the Seanad, I came to the conclusion that he perhaps, deleted the words, "projected impact", because he did not like them. For this reason, I have modified the wording in the hope that the Minister will be more positive towards the subsection.
The following was deleted in the Seanad:
(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;
This legislation is about striking a balance between the need for our airports to develop and the needs of residents to live in a safe environment where their health is not impacted. Section (9)(2) provides that the competent authority shall ensure that the balanced approach is adopted where a noise problem at the airport has been identified and, to that end, shall ensure that, as appropriate, the well-being and health of local residents are protected. When we sought to insert this provision into the legislation on Committee Stage the response of the Minister was that it is was not necessary because well-being and health are covered. This has been his mantra regarding all proposed amendments in regard to health. If, as he has stated on previous Stages, health is covered, why does he now see the need to remove the specific reference to the well-being and health of local residents? This is exposing the Minister in regard to health issues. If health is covered in other ways, the proposed additional reference will not detract from what is provided for in the Bill; rather, it complements and enhances it and it reassures residents.
In supporting Deputy Brendan Ryan we have to start from the position of how we got to where we are today. This Bill has been a through a long and tortuous process, particularly for those of us who represent the communities impacted most by aircraft noise. During the Second Stage debate in the House, many, if not all, of us on the Opposition benches made the point that to transpose the EU directive properly and to respect the health and well-being of residents, we need to amend the Bill as drafted. Throughout Committee and Report Stages in the House we succeeded, to our delight, in having amendments accepted which we believe made the Bill better. We have previously made the point that we were appreciative of the briefings provided to us behind the scenes by the officials of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding this legislation and our efforts to ensure the directive is transposed in a manner which allows the balanced approach for noise mitigation.
Deputy Ryan is correct that this was supposed to be a positive measure for airport communities. We were supposed to be getting to a position where there was a recognition of the established medical fact that exposure to noise, particularly at night time, which causes a disruption to a person's sleep pattern, results in an impact on that person's health which is significant. Substantial studies have been undertaken on a global scale, which demonstrate that this is the case. We know, for example, that young children and older citizens are particularly exposed to the disruption caused by aircraft noise in terms of their health and well-being. This resolution is supposed to bring in mechanisms in recognition of the fact that airports create noise. We all love airports. Before I was elected to this House, I worked in an airport. All of my friends and many of my constituents work in the airport community. It is important to stress that we all love airports but they have to operate in a sustainable and balanced way. In this sense, it is important that health and well-being are recognised in the legislation.
Deputy Ryan is also correct that when we raised this issue on various Stages, the Minister responded that health is covered and it does not to be specified further. If it is covered, what is the harm in re-emphasising it, because it is critical to this legislation? The Minister's argument does not stand up. From our point of view, it is not specified and it needs to be included. It is important to put on the record that this was agreed by the Dáil on an earlier Stage. As the Minister will be aware, a number of complaints have been made to the European Union regarding the manner in which the Government is dealing with this matter. I have no doubt, sadly, that it will be the subject of litigation in the future. He needs to deal with these issues because residents feel incredibly exposed in terms of the scenario being put before them.
The manner in which he has handled this legislation is atrocious. Never before has legislation been rammed through as quickly as this in terms of the activities that were engaged in at the Business Committee last week, when the Government insisted that it had to be dealt with today even though it had not been dealt with by the Seanad at that time. The Government was adamant that it was going to railroad this legislation through the Houses and it was clear Fianna Fail was going to facilitate it in doing so. There is nobody here from Fianna Fáil for this debate. The Bill got through the Seanad, as planned. Even though we succeeded in winning these gains in the Dáil, we are here at the eleventh dealing with them again.
The Minister has never explained to us why the reference to health is not needed. There is no impediment to it being included. I support Deputy Ryan's amendment. We do not need clauses and specifications for health and well-being removed.
In our view, the purpose of this regulation is to take a balanced approach to aircraft noise. The outcome should be the protection of the health and well-being of residents. What is the harm in specifying that in legislation?
Seanad amendments Nos. 1 and 2 seek to reverse two amendments of mine which were agreed by this House on Report Stage. On Tuesday night, the Minister saw fit to have my amendments, and several other amendments, removed in the Seanad. The Government showed a total disregard for the democratic process by refusing to allow time for a proper debate. Instead, it pushed its own amendments through. All of this was facilitated in the Seanad the other night by Fianna Fáil, which said one thing to local residents before stabbing them in the back by supporting the Government on Tuesday night. I was happy that Fianna Fáil had supported the two Sinn Féin amendments passed by this House on Report Stage. By facilitating the farce in the Seanad, Fianna Fáil has undone the work we had done in here. I hope it will redeem itself today by voting with the Opposition against the Government's amendments. We will see how that pans out later this afternoon. My two amendments, which were agreed on Report Stage, sought to put "the well-being and health of local residents" on a statutory footing. The first of them sought to ensure consideration is given to "the well-being and health of local residents" when decisions are being made on noise levels at Dublin Airport. The second of them sought to put an onus on the authority to report on "the impact of the decision on .... local residents", as well as on the extent to which the requirements of residents are taken into consideration. The Minister will argue that the health of residents is covered elsewhere in EU regulations, as others have said, but there is no reason it should not be included in our national legislation too. Our efforts to safeguard the health of people should be given a legislative backing. I will vote against the amendments made by the Minister in the Seanad.
I would like to express my strong support for the retention of the badly needed amendments Deputy Munster succeeded in making to the Bill on Report Stage in this House. One of the amendments, as set out on page 11 of the Bill that went to the Seanad, sought to evaluate the "projected impact on the well-being and health of local residents". The other amendment, as set out on page 13 of the Bill that went to the Seanad, sought to require the new authorised regulator to conduct "an assessment of the impact of the decision on the well-being and health of local residents". I would also like to express my strong support for my colleague, Deputy Brendan Ryan, who has proposed an amendment to Seanad amendment No. 1 to restore the basic safeguard that Deputy Munster managed to get into the Bill to ensure "the well-being and health of local residents is thoroughly evaluated". Such a safeguard should be at the centre of this. It is inconceivable, unconscionable and hard to believe that the Minister has reneged on the decision of this House to apply such fundamental principles to the Bill.
In my amendment to Seanad amendment No. 3, I seek to restore the principle of Deputy Clare Daly's outstanding amendment to Part 4, which received the approval of this House on Report Stage. The amendment I propose seeks to ensure "average noise exposure is in accordance with WHO guidelines". Deputy Daly's amendment specified "that average noise exposure [should be] reduced below 45dBL, and night noise exposure [should be] below 40dBL". People understand the kind of range of noise we are talking about. I am trying to retain this fundamental principle in the Bill by referring to noise levels being "in accordance with WHO guidelines".
It is deplorable that this Bill is being rushed through in the way we have seen this week. The fundamental mistake that the Minister is making in this Bill will be on his record forever. He has chosen the wrong regulator. Many of our constituents find it totally despicable that he has not given us much of a chance to evaluate the removal of our important Report Stage amendments, which happened when this Bill was rushed through the Seanad. We had hours of debate on the excellent amendments in question in this Chamber. The Minister availed of the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael coalition, which is the core Government in this Oireachtas, to ensure they were totally undone in the Seanad. For that reason, we have had to resubmit the amendments in question in an attempt to take account of the lives and well-being of the citizens affected by aircraft noise pollution. It is striking that the regulation of noise is still a fundamental aspect of modern life. The UK Supreme Court seems to have issued a landmark judgment yesterday in the case of a musician whose hearing has been damaged by noise.
I want to put on the record my total opposition to the terribly short timeframe that Deputies were given to submit amendments in advance of this debate. We were given a couple of hours to do so yesterday afternoon when, having greeted Speaker Pelosi and listened to her address, we were busy in committees and other activities and so many things were happening. I believe the conclusion of this Bill has happened in a very undemocratic fashion. As I have said to him on many occasions, if the Minister were on this side of the House, he would have been screaming and shouting at us about how undemocratically the procedure that is now being implemented was playing out. It is disappointing that he has not accepted the invitations of the residents of the most affected localities, including St. Margaret's, Newtown and The Ward, as well as all of those involved in the forum and other community groups, to visit those areas. I believe that invitation has been open to the Minister since he took up office. It would be easy enough for him to organise a meeting so that he can hear the noise levels associated with the constant takeoffs and landings with which these communities are living night and day.
I support the restoration of Deputy Munster's first amendment, which was deleted by Seanad amendment No. 1. Its restoration would restore the principle that "the well-being and health of local residents" should be at the centre of this legislation. I warmly welcome Deputy Brendan Ryan's amendment to Seanad amendment No. 1, which involves a slight rewording of the original amendment as proposed by Deputy Munster while retaining the thrust of that amendment. Deputy Ryan's amendment emphasises "the well-being and health of local residents" and the impacts on local communities. The point here is that the Minister is avoiding having to make the health and well-being of local residents a central part of his deliberations upon the conclusion of this Bill. We know about the detrimental impacts of noise pollution on health. I mentioned a case that concluded in the UK yesterday. We have to acknowledge the crucial importance of health for everyone who lives in the vicinity of the airport. When we are producing legislation, we should follow the old principle that at least we should do no harm. Perhaps Ministers, Deputies and all public representatives should take the hippocratic oath.
Why did the Minister knowingly delete from this legislation amendments that sought to evaluate the "projected impact on the well-being and health of local residents"? We know that aircraft noise in this area is having an impact on health and well-being and will continue to have such an impact. In light of the Minister's track record, many cynical people believe that if the airport were near his constituency, he would take a much different role in this regard. If there were no detrimental impacts on the health and well-being of local residents, why would he object to these provisions? We can only assume that aircraft noise pollution has a negative impact on the people living around the airport. Obviously, the assessments we are looking for would prove that all residents are affected by aircraft noise and provide evidence for residents who might wish to pursue litigation.
I strongly supported the Report Stage amendments proposed by Deputies Clare Daly and Munster and their colleagues.
On Report Stage, it was revealed, via documents released under freedom of information provisions, that Fingal County Council had expressed a clear desire to the Minister and his officials not to be the noise regulator because of a clear conflict of interest and its lack of independence from Dublin Airport Authority. We were sent papers by constituents recently that indicated the sheer dependence of Fingal county on the airport is much more profound than the 8% the Minister mentioned. This is because of all the businesses in the airport zone and the rates they pay. A huge chunk of the council's income comes from this. There is no question but that, down the line, the regulator will change.
There are issues regarding the resources the council would require to take on the role of competent authority. It was interesting to note that the officials in Fingal County Council, whom I hold in high regard, expressed their great reservations about the Minister's course because of potential issues in future and, of course, the possibility that the council could be left open to legal challenge, right up to European level.
As I state on Report Stage, we are closing in on the airport cap. An annual cap of 40 million passengers might be imposed sooner rather than later. As we know, in June 2016, RPS Group produced an environmental impact scoping report on the north runway proposal. Human health and the impact of aviation noise are covered in Chapter 3.3 of that environmental report. The report noted matters including the potential changes in concentration exposure to ground-borne emissions, airborne emissions, community disruption and the potential for bad health outcomes. It also lists annoyance, academic performance, sleep disturbance, risk of injury and more. On Report Stage, I outlined the severe health impacts that the WHO states can result from noise disturbance.
The evidence raised in the Fingal consultation with regard to environmental noise, including aircraft noise and which includes evidence from the European Environment Agency, EEA, and the WHO, lists a wide range of medical conditions and other problems. These include cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction; cognitive impairment, including: impacts on children's reading and education; the deep impacts sleep disturbance can have on people's daily lives; tinnitus; hearing loss; the sheer annoyance of being bothered by relentless aircraft noise; and impacts on quality of life and well-being. For these reasons, of course, I had submitted an amendment on Report Stage for a longitudinal study over a number of years on the impacts of noise on residents and such a study should still be undertaken. My final amendment on Report Stage was No. 100. It called for a three-year review, which the Minister refused. Twenty-six of us supported the amendment but approximately double that number voted against it.
The balanced approach is in the EU Regulation No. 598/2014, the reason for the Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018. People talk about a balanced approach that would include quieter aircraft and all kinds of noise abatement measures but, as I have previously said during our debates on this Bill, one of the problems we have in our legislation is that there is no comprehensive noise legislation regime or national regulator. This is a huge lacuna. It was an issue when dealing with the 2006 noise regulation. The Minister was in the other House at the time. We made the EPA the noise regulator. The Minister does not seem to have noticed that when preparing for this Bill.
We have not established a totally independent regulator so far. Local authorities have to deal with the matter day in, day out. I previously asked the Minister to try to address this by including this specific measure in the legislation. With every Bill, there is an opportunity to gather more data, understand the impacts of legislation, and improve the lives of citizens in all areas of life.
Our amendments about assessment on Report Stage were capable of providing guidance and would allow us to return to this month after month, year after year, and to check it out. My amendment to Seanad amendment No. 3 is a redrafting of that of Deputy Clare Daly. It states, "The competent authority shall direct the airport authority to ensure that average noise exposure is in accordance with WHO guidelines, as applicable". It was originally an amendment on the noise levels as per the WHO guidelines. Seanad amendment No. 3 deleted the lines in question. The unholy alliance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael abandoned all the population along the airport corridor when it supported the Minister in the Seanad.
We were delighted to have section 19(2) inserted into the original Bill in Part 4. I understand that even the residents and local community groups agree that having levels in the Bill is difficult because, if very low levels are specified, it could make things very hard to even operate an airport. Very sensibly, they would say that going with the WHO's general approach to noise levels is the best approach, rather than stipulating levels. This is why I urge the Minister to accept my amendment, which is effectively that of Deputy Clare Daly. I do not see why he would not because the WHO gives guidance on this for all airports. Perhaps the Minister might consider my amendment and the others this afternoon so we may put health at the forefront.
There are some areas of St. Margaret's where the levels can reach almost double those we were specifying. Residents experience up to 60 dBLs but the provision does allow for the levels to be revised in accordance to WHO guidelines. We opt for WHO rules. Why should we not be working towards best practice in this regard? That is why I framed the amendment as I did, in my second attempt to have a stab at this.
There was a case yesterday in the UK Supreme Court where the court upheld a complaint about noise from a musician. It was regarded as a landmark case. Since, like the UK, we have a common law jurisdiction, our legal system will have to keep an eye on this.
The WHO Regional Office for Europe states:
Noise is an underestimated threat that can cause a number of short- and long-term health problems, such as sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, poorer work and school performance, and hearing impairment.
Noise has emerged as a leading environmental nuisance in the WHO European Region, and the public complains about excessive noise more and more often.
The WHO also provides preferred limits for noise levels, stating "guidelines for community noise recommend less than 30 A-weighted decibels (dB(A)) in bedrooms during the night for a sleep of good quality and less than 35 dB(A) in classrooms to allow good teaching and learning conditions." It further states, "guidelines for night noise recommend less than 40 dB(A) of annual average (Lnight) outside of bedrooms to prevent adverse health effects from night noise." The WHO Regional Office for Europe also estimates, according to available EU data, that "about 40% of the population in EU countries is exposed to road traffic noise at levels exceeding 55 db(A); 20% is exposed to levels exceeding 65 dB(A) during the daytime; and more than 30% is exposed to levels exceeding 55 dB(A) at night." Above 55 dB(A), one is disastrous territory in regard to health.
On the 10 October last year, before the Minister introduced his legislation, the WHO published Noise Guidelines for the European Region. The accompanying documentation states that the main differences between them and previous guidelines are: stronger evidence of the cardiovascular and metabolic effects of environmental noise; inclusion of new noise sources, including aircraft, rail and road traffic; the use of a standardised approach to assess the evidence; a systematic review of evidence, defining the relationship between noise exposure and risk of adverse health outcomes; and the use of long-term average noise exposure indicators to better predict adverse health outcomes. This information from the WHO clearly supports the three amendments on the health and well-being of residents that should be taken into account in the regulation of aircraft noise. It seems incredible that, with the Minister's record of opposition in the Seanad and in this House, he is not standing with us today to ensure that these general amendments on health and well-being are made to the legislation.
In its report, Burden of disease from environmental noise - Quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe, the WHO found, in relation to cardiovascular diseases, that:
[T]he evidence from epidemiological studies on the association between exposure to road traffic and aircraft noise and hypertension and ischaemic heart disease has increased during recent years. Road traffic noise has been shown to increase the risk of ischaemic heart disease, including myocardial infarction. Both road traffic noise and aircraft noise increase the risk of high blood pressure.
It is critical that these references be restored to the Bill and that the Minister accept mine and Deputy Brendan Ryan's amendments, which are a reflection of those put down by Deputies Munster and Clare Daly. It would be the right thing to do today and I urge the Minister to take that action.
Does any other Member wish to speak on any one of the three amendments or the amendments to the amendments?
It is quite incredible that the Seanad would wipe out some of the protections in the Bill relating to the health of residents. I will use the example of a family who will now be unable to get any insulation or protection from noise because of votes that may take place here today. This family is extremely disappointed and demoralised and will have lost all faith in the political system if these basic matters are not listened to. We should remember that we refer, in particular, to night time noise. We are not discussing impairing day time travel.
I received correspondence from someone who lives in the Ward Cross, who was in contact with many Deputies, pointing out his family's circumstances. Some days ago they wrote to the Dublin Airport Authority asking that their house be added to the noise insulation scheme. They pointed out several factors that would affect them. The effects of noise on health have already been outlined here, and they wrote that they were aware of the effects of aircraft noise on health, namely, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and cognitive impairment of children, all of which have been verified by the World Health Organization. We are all particularly worried about children who are more vulnerable to all these issues. He wrote of how he and his wife were very concerned about the health of their family and especially that the adverse effects have more impact on the vulnerable sections of the population, namely, the young. He explained how his son was diagnosed with acute leukaemia at age three and a half years and was treated for three years at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. While he has made a great recovery he suffers from hypertension, which is not normally associated with leukaemia. Airport noise can exacerbate that condition and his wife also has trouble with hypertension. The reply they received was that eligibility was based on the projected 63 dB level and that they will not qualify, despite living very close to the airport and being impacted. They were told that their dwelling was not located in either the 2016 or projected 2022 contours and is, therefore, ineligible for participation in either scheme.
This is the kind of news that people who live, many of them for many years, around the airport have received. Their faith in the political process is at the lowest imaginable. They have seen the two largest parties in the Dáil gang up to prevent World Health Organization best practice being the basis for regulations. It is shameful what is happening here. It points to the need for an alternative to be built.
During an earlier debate, someone said that we are all concerned about health but I beg to differ. Some people are not as concerned about health as others. If health was the real concern it would trump any commercial interests. What is happening here is that commercial interests are being placed before the health of the people and families who live near the airport. All these arguments have been made already. We have now seen Seanad amendments remove consideration of local residents' health, the noise requirement to be under 45 dB and night noise below 40 dB, in line with the WHO recommendations. The fact the Seanad exists is a problem with me as it is but so is the fact that it has no accountability to local residents, because it is not elected by local residents. The local elections will be the next chance residents will have to give their verdict. I hope they use this opportunity to do so. I appeal to parties and individuals here today to listen to the views of residents. The case has been made here over many nights. Commercial interests should not trump the health of people who live near the airport.
Deputy Broughan's amendment specifies that "[t]he competent authority shall direct the airport authority to ensure that average noise exposure is in accordance with WHO guidelines, as applicable".
Many people watching this debate will have heard a lot about WHO guidelines without necessarily understanding what they are and what they mean. I will return to some of the specifics but it might be helpful if I read the foreword of those recommendations as they are relevant to people's thinking about what ought to be. Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, wrote that "noise is one of the most important environmental risks to health and continues to be a growing concern among policy-makers and the public alike." I have my doubts about that in relation to policy makers in this country, but it is certainly of concern to the public in Ireland. Dr. Jakab continued:
Based on the assessment threshold specified in the environmental noise directive of the European Union, EU, at least 100 million people in the EU are affected by road traffic noise, and in western Europe alone at least 1.6 million healthy years of life are lost as a result of road traffic noise.
At the request of Member States at the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Parma, Italy, in March 2010, the WHO Regional Office for Europe has developed these guidelines, based on the growing understanding of the health impacts of exposure to environmental noise. They provide robust public health advice, which is essential to drive policy action that will protect communities from the adverse effects of noise.
These WHO guidelines - the first of their kind globally - provide recommendations for protecting human health from exposure to environmental noise originating from various sources. They not only offer robust public health advice but also serve as a solid basis for future updates, given the growing recognition of the problem and the rapid advances in research on the health impacts of noise. The comprehensive process of developing the guidelines has followed a rigorous methodology; their recommendations are based on systematic reviews of evidence that consider more health outcomes of noise exposure than ever before. Through their potential to influence urban, transport and energy policies, these guidelines contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and support WHO’s vision of creating resilient communities and supportive environments in the European region.
Following the publication of WHO’s community noise guidelines in 1999 and night noise guidelines for Europe in 2009, these latest guidelines represent the next evolutionary step, taking advantage of the growing diversity and quality standards in this research domain. Comprehensive and robust, and underpinned by evidence, they will serve as a sound basis for action.
While these guidelines focus on the WHO European Region and provide policy guidance to Member States [of which we are one] that is compatible with the noise indicators used in the EU's Environmental Noise Directive [ it is compatible with the noise directive that the Minister referenced at previous discussions on this], they still have global relevance. Indeed, a large body of the evidence underpinning the recommendations was derived not only from noise effect studies in Europe but also from research in other parts of the world – mainly in Asia, Australia and the United States of America [we are talking about best practice here].
I am proud to present these guidelines as another leading example of the normative work undertaken in our Region in the area of environment and health. On behalf of the WHO Regional Office for Europe and our European Centre for Environment and Health in Bonn, Germany, which coordinated the development of the guidelines, I would like to express my gratitude to the large network of experts, partners, colleagues and consultants who have contributed to this excellent publication. I would also like to thank Switzerland and Germany for providing financial support to this complex project, and look forward to following the influence of the guidelines on policy and research in the years to come.
This is a reference to this body of work we have all being referring to in 2018, we are passing legislation in 2019 and it has got to feature. It would be remiss of us to let this legislation pass without reference to the WHO guidelines.
I attended a local meeting recently with people who live close to the airport flight path north of the Navan Road. It included some people who worked in the airport and had a lot of experience in relation to noise. As one might expect, they are aghast at Deputy Ross's arrangement, as Minister, to make Fingal County Council the regulator for noise. Not only that, confirming what my colleague, Deputy Brendan Ryan stated, people working in the airport were aware of various mitigation factors that may be taken, which could significantly reduce, if not substantially eliminate, much of the noise. One should bear in mind that the biggest problems that people have are the extension and increase in the number of late-night flights and early-morning flights. It is one matter to have flights during the day but it is another matter, in terms of the health effects that Deputy Brendan Ryan has raised, to have them during the night and very early in the morning when people are still trying to sleep.
I fail to understand why the Minister is not taking a more modern approach to this but instead makes a regulator of the planning authority, which, understandably, like everybody, has a vested interest in the economic success of the airport, the maintenance of jobs and the maintenance of tourism, etc. Many of us have been members of Fingal County Council and we are familiar with this. However, we are also aware - this is what the Minister does not seem to appreciate - of the downside on people's lives in two particular cases, where their houses are badly insulated because they were not built to modern insulation standards and where there is a creeping demand to expand the number and volume of flights at sleeping times. The latter noise is the most disastrous for health where families, including children, end up without being able to get proper sleep. We are talking almost exclusively about family homes in these areas.
On the WHO guidelines on noise, it is not an area that Ireland has felt it particularly necessary to legislate for but we should do it now to the best standards. Somebody such as the Minister should establish what is the lived experience of communities in the areas directly affected by the noise in order that we can work to minimise the noise. Many of the people at the meeting I attended were confident that much could be done through the use of modern technologies, including flight behaviours, flight lines and flight paths, if approached in a way designed to minimise noise. People have experience of that. Flying in and out of other European airports where that is the approach, there is relatively little noise even though aircraft may be close to populated areas.
First, I thank every Deputy who has contributed to this Bill throughout the process. I am grateful to them for the contributions they have made. Deputy Clare Daly alluded to the fact that this Bill has changed significantly as a result to a large degree of my officials discussing it with them, a heavy contribution from Fianna Fáil and, indeed, from other parties. The Bill has changed to satisfy many of the Members who are in this House today and the residents whom they represent. I refer to Deputies Darragh O'Brien, Clare Daly, Brendan Ryan and Broughan and I am sorry if I have left anybody out. There has been a large volume of what Deputy Clare Daly described as behind-the-scenes talks - they were not secret but they were outside this House - to try to improve the Bill. I am grateful to Fianna Fáil for what it contributed because it has improved the Bill. Its members put forward measures which were in the interests of residents. They have succeeded in getting measures through, agreed by us, which were in the interests of residents. Others have done so as well. Let us not pretend that this legislation has a history of conflict. There has been co-operation. There are matters outstanding on which we do not agree and they will be resolved, I presume, today, or sooner or later, in this House.
This is not a dictatorial Government Bill. This is a Bill that was negotiated, and to which many of the Deputies in this House, including Deputies Troy and Darragh O'Brien, have contributed significantly. The residents should in all cases feel themselves well represented by those in this House who have made their voices heard on their behalf.
The Bill has changed due to representations from everybody. Since it was initiated, I have listened to Deputies' views and some forceful arguments. That engagement has improved the Bill in many areas. Regarding health, I will explain in more detail in a moment. In respect of strengthening the accountability of the noise regulator, for example, the regulator now has to publish an annual report on its performance and there will be an independent review every five years. The engagement improved the Bill also in respect of insulation schemes and the buy-out scheme, to which Deputies referred but which we will discuss, probably at much greater length, later.
On this amendment, I acknowledge the extensive, constructive and genuine debates we have had during the passage of the Bill, specifically, regarding the impact of noise on the health and welfare of the local residents of Dublin Airport who have been so well represented. It is only fair, on the Deputies' part, to say that we all share the same concern. That is what the noise regulator is about. If there was no noise regulator, let us imagine the situation for residents.
The only point of dispute is on how best to ensure the interests of local residents are properly provided for in the Bill. No Deputy or Senator should seek to claim sole ownership of this issue. We all share common ground in respect of seeking to stand up for the interests of local residents. This is hugely important and local residents are entitled to understand how this Bill will protect their interests.
Repeating what I told the Seanad on Tuesday, I would like to make it absolutely clear that the assessment of the health impact of aircraft noise is an integral part of this Bill. This Bill and the EU regulation underpinning it requires the noise regulator to take full account of existing EU law around health and environmental noise. I will quote directly from regulation 598/2014 which underpins this Bill and applies fully in Ireland. Article 1.2(a) of the regulation states that the purpose of the regulatory framework that Fingal will roll out is "to facilitate the achievement of specific noise abatement objectives, including health aspects, at the level of individual airports". The regulation also states:
The importance of health aspects needs to be recognised in relation to noise problems, and it is therefore important that those aspects be taken into consideration in a consistent manner at all airports when a decision is taken on noise abatement objectives, taking into account the existence of common Union rules in this area. Therefore, health aspects should be assessed in accordance with Union legislation on the evaluation of noise effects.
It cannot be much plainer or simpler than that. To give the impression that health is somehow out of the equation is wrong. It is specifically mentioned many times in the EU directive and I will refer to that.
The Bill also makes specific cross-references to the 2002 environmental noise directive and the 2018 noise regulations which leaves no doubt that these EU laws also apply to the work of the noise regulator. This cross-reference, made in Parts 2 and 3 of the Bill, specifically section 9(23) and under section 11 and the insertion of the new section 34C(22), was an amendment made on Report Stage in the Dáil following strong representations from Deputies Troy and Darragh O'Brien. The environment noise directive and its updated implementing regulations from 2018 set out: "A common approach within the European Union intended to avoid, prevent or reduce, on a prioritised basis the harmful effects, including annoyance, due to exposure to environmental noise." By "harmful effects" the directive means negative effects on human health. This is unequivocal. I hear what Deputies are saying but let us not fly in the face of facts.
Similarly, we have discussed at length the World Health Organization, WHO, guidelines on noise. Making those guidelines a legally binding requirement for the Irish aircraft noise regulator is not something we can allow to pass into law. As I have explained on a number of occasions, such an amendment is not appropriate because it has the effect of amending an EU regulation. As we all should know, the national parliament for a state is not able to amend an EU regulation. EU regulations are made and amended at EU level through the EU institutions of which Ireland is a part - the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.
I am sure this is not a deliberate attempt to cut across EU law but that is what such an amendment does. It is not a question of whether the WHO guidelines are right or wrong. Rather, it is about what is possible and possible to implement, in what timeframe and at what cost. These things are all being considered at EU level as part of the review of the 2002 environmental noise directive which included consideration of how to treat and reflect the WHO guidelines. They are being considered. Should there be a change at EU level reflected through amendments to regulation 598 and the environmental noise directive, that change will immediately and directly apply to this Bill and the work of the noise regulator. However, I cannot stand over a Bill here which would pre-empt any such decision about future EU regulations and directives. The Bill is wholly in line with EU law and all the provisions and protections enshrined therein. There is no doubt that the impact of aircraft noise on the health of local residents will form part of the noise regulator's regulatory deliberation and decisions.
I have been pushed very hard on this point by Deputy Darragh O'Brien in particular. He has, to be fair to him, insisted on meeting officials, pushed them hard on the legal position and been clear in underlining that health would be an integral part of the regulatory regime.
I have dealt with most things in those replies but I will address some of the more specific points, some of which did not really address the health area, but I will try and address them anyway. Deputy Brendan Ryan says that the fact that I am not accepting his amendments exposes me on health issues. I have given my reasons why I am not accepting them. It is not that the Deputy has exposed me to health issues, it is because I cannot accept his amendments. I do not think Deputy Ryan will disagree that health is repeatedly covered in this Bill. Let the message not go out from this debate that somehow health has been ignored because it is quite the opposite. The regulation keeps referring to health. It refers to the importance of health aspects to be recognised as part of noise problems.
The Deputies may disagree with the noise levels involved or the way it is being implemented but the noise regulator is obliged to consider health as a top priority. I disagree with some of the suggestions made here about the levels, the extent and consequences that may or may not arise but we are on the same side about health. We are leaving it to the regulator and cannot possibly run something that is counter to the EU regulation.
I acknowledge the substantial contribution of Deputy Clare Daly to this Bill. She has had changes made by the power of argument and that is fair enough and should be acknowledged. She is right when she says it is a long and tortuous process because it has been both of those things. To talk about the Bill being rammed through is somewhat unfair. This time last year, the delays were the problem. Deputies were asking what was happening and why it was taking so long. People are now saying they want it to take longer. Deputy Clare Daly was not a Member of the Seanad so she was not there and it is unfair and wrong to suggest the Bill was rammed through the Seanad. It was not. It went into the Seanad on Second Stage and went through Committee and Report Stages. There was no time limit whatsoever in the Seanad the night before last. I told the Seanad that I was prepared to sit there as long as necessary. The Senators took the decision that they did not want to speak for any longer.
That was because none of them has any residents to represent.
Nevertheless, people are saying it was rammed through the Seanad and it was not.
The Government defeated a proposal to have Committee Stage on Tuesday and Report Stage thereafter.
Can I point out that we are privileged to be Members of a bicameral system and the legitimacy of the Seanad should not be questioned here?
Some of us wanted to abolish the Seanad and still do.
The people answered that question.
The people of Ireland did not want to abolish it.
Can we please listen to the Minister?
The Minister is misleading the House and Deputy Brendan Ryan has shown that clearly.
I am not misleading the House, that is not fair, although I understand why Deputy Broughan says it. The Seanad is a legitimate and extremely valuable part of this democracy. Senators decided, in their collective wisdom, that they had enough of the debate the other night.
It was open to the Seanad to go on all night and forever if it wished. That was what we offered but it did not do so. The Seanad concluded its deliberations quite voluntarily in a few hours.
A few hours.
That is what the Seanad did on Committee and Report Stages. It was open to it to come back but it did not do so. We did not ram the legislation through. We gave the Seanad as much time as possible. The Bill had been the subject of much debate in this House previously and it is being debated again today. Without being unfair, some of this is repetitive. Some of the things said here are quite repetitive and comparable with what was said on Committee Stage. That is inevitable.
The Minister is not listening.
I am listening. Perhaps I am not giving the Deputy everything he wants but I cannot do that. That is inevitable. I am trying to give full replies to the points raised by the Deputy. Deputy Munster stated that the Bill was refused a proper debate in the Seanad. It was not.
There was no Report Stage.
It was not refused proper debate at all. She stated that there was no reason these measures should not be included in national legislation. There is a reason because we cannot do that. It is not possible to introduce national legislation to overrule an EU directive like this. That is the reason it is done.
Deputy Broughan is looking for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to direct the airport authority to do certain things. It cannot do that under this Bill. The Deputy also stated that the legislation was rushed through the Seanad. We have gone through all of that. He was critical of me for not meeting the group from St. Margaret's. I do not know how many groups I have met. I have not met with the group from St. Margaret's. I have responded to virtually every group that has made an attempt to meet me. Deputy Darragh O'Brien brought a group to meet with me, as did Senator Clifford-Lee. I think I met a group brought in my Deputy Clare Daly. It was a Traveller group, I believe. The Deputy was not there but the Travellers were. I have met virtually everyone who asked to see me about this. I will only address Deputy Broughan's point because it is unfair. He stated that if it was my own constituency, I would have met the group. I doubt if any other Minister in this or any previous Government has met so many groups of people from outside his or her constituency as I have. A plea was made in this House about the group from St. Margaret's on the previous occasion. I do not think I have met the group but there is no reason why I have not done so. It is probably down to time but I offered to let my officials meet it between now and then. I do not know weather or not if they have made those representations to see them but that offer is still open. On Tuesday night in the Seanad, I was asked by Senator Craughwell whether I would still meet some groups even though this Bill was nearly through and whether I would arrange for meetings between the DAA and them afterwards. Yes, I will. In fact, I have written to the DAA to ask whether it will continue communications for those under the voluntary insulation scheme in particular because Deputies Darragh O'Brien and Troy and others have asked me to do that. I will do it.
Everybody wants to be as sensitive as possible to the needs of the residents and that also applies after this Bill passes. This is not an attempt to ram it through just to shut them up. That applies afterwards as well. That is very important but it is equally important that this Bill goes through. This Bill is very important to the future of Dublin Airport, its employees and local residents. It is not easy for anybody here to get this right because of the difficulty of balancing the interests of the airlines, the DAA, the airport and residents. I do not think it is fair to suggest that the regulator is being introduced in the interests of the airlines and the DAA. Nobody could accuse me of have been a great fan of the DAA. I do not like State monopolies. I never have. I do not like the way they operate and have been very vigilant in watching what they do and when they do it since I became Minister. However, we must keep a viable airport in Dublin and balance that with the interests of residents. That is what I intend to do, that is what this Bill will do and that is what the noise regulator is there for. I do not think it has been suggested today that a noise regulator is there to represent the big battalions. The noise regulator is there to protect the residents - perhaps not as much as Deputies might like - but that is what he or she is there for.
I thank the Minister for his response. In the context of health matters, he referenced Regulation (EU) No 598/2014 and went to great lengths to reference the points within that, including those relating to health. I fully accept what the regulation states. However, the Minister did not deal with the issue before us. One of the amendments he introduced in the Seanad seeks to delete section 9(2)(c), which references projected impact on the well-being and health of local residents. The Minister also intends to delete section 9(12)(f), which relates to an assessment of the impact of the decision on the well-being and health of local residents. Why does the Minister feel it essential to remove these provisions? Could he explain why, in the context of leaving those provisions in, those two issues would be incompatible with the regulation? The Minister again argued that health is covered. One might have been able to make the argument on Committee Stage that there is no need for the provisions but now they are in, the Minister has not explained why it is essential for him to remove them. To most people, these provisions would be quite compatible with what he read out in respect of the contents of the regulation. Could the Minister address this in conversational mode rather than read out something handed to him that goes over the same ground by stating that it is already covered? I want the Minister to address this specific point. Why is the presence of these provisions incompatible with the regulation?
That is a very fair question. The first answer would be that it looks as if that is unnecessary because one is just asking that the health and well-being of local residents be included. I would have thought it was self-evident that if one is worried about the health of residents, the reference to impact on the well-being and health of residents is self-evident. It would be unnecessary. That would be one of the reasons. It is just not necessary. The impact of these could be to amend the regulation. That is the legal advice I have received. They may be attractive and simple but technically, they represent a change. I do not see why anybody would die in a ditch over this one - even the Deputy - because it is self-explanatory to me that this is already included. We have spoken about health many times in the regulation. "Health" can only refer to the health of the residents. The regulation specifically talks about health of residents so I do not think these provisions are necessary. To put them in-----
They are in.
To accept the amendment would be against legal advice because it would alter the regulation. That is the reason I cannot accept it.
So many points, so little time left in the debate on the Bill before us. I am not sure whether the Minister was trying to embarrass or help Fianna Fáil but I could feel the red faces from back here. Everybody knows that the Bill has been improved over a long process. One need not be a genius to know this; one need only go back and look at the record to know that the improvements that were passed in this House came as a result of the efforts of other Opposition Deputies, not a miraculous number of Fianna Fáil amendments that came through.
That is not true.
It is a matter of historical record that the reason the amendments before us are not better than they were is that Fianna Fáil helped out and bailed out the Minister and ensured that Fingal County Council, rather than the preferred option of the rest of the Opposition and indeed the majority of the residents in the area, would be the competent authority. I refer to the Commission for Aviation Regulation, particularly in the context that there has already been a strategic decision that this is the body which should deal with aviation regulation in all areas. I do not know whether or not the Minister was trying to help Fianna Fáil but, to my mind, this would not really do the party any favours.
I do agree with the Minister, however, that the problem, when we say this has been railroaded through, was not the curtailment of the Seanad debate. Unfortunately, the Senators in the main did not display a huge degree of interest in this issue. It was a result of their lack of engagement and lack of knowledge regarding this critically important area that the debate folded up relatively quickly in the Seanad, and I grant the Minister that. It is true. The point Deputy Brendan Ryan made, however, was not that and not about those of us who say it was rammed through. He was making the point that the Business Committee of this House was forced to schedule this debate today, prior to the Seanad having completed its consideration of the Bill and having tabled the amendments. We did not even know when we met as a Business Committee last Thursday how many Seanad amendments there would be because the deadline for Seanad amendments was not until the Friday, yet the Business Committee was forced to agree to this discussion taking place today. It is worth pointing out that every Opposition group, including Fianna Fáil, voted against the debate taking place today because it is unseemly and unprecedented that discussion on a Bill in the Seanad would finish on Tuesday night; that amendments would be made to the Bill, amendments which in this case changed what this House did after a lot more careful consideration, let us be clear, than the Seanad gave the Bill; and that we would then be forced to discuss those amendments today, on the Thursday before a bank holiday weekend, at the 11th hour. That was the problem and that is what we mean when we say this was rammed through, and we fully stand over those points.
The Minister made the point that we all share the same concerns. Do we? I am not so sure. I am not happy with the answer he gave to Deputy Brendan Ryan to the very valid question he posed, that is, if the Minister is saying health and well-being are already covered and we do not need to put in this extra safeguard because it is there already, what is the harm in inserting it? For the Minister to say it is not legal does not really stand up because this House has already heard the arguments and voted to include this provision, so that is old hat and there is nothing new in that argument. Let us be clear what the real reason is. It is that some Members of this House have pandered more to the interests of DAA than to those of the residents surrounding the airport.
As I said many times, I was an airport worker in a former life. I am an airport worker in my heart, as are all my friends and many of my constituents, so I quite like DAA. Dalton Philips has done a good job, and DAA is a good organisation. However, one needs to look at the lobbying record and the history of the organisation. Under freedom of information, FOI, residents have shown us that in 2018, for example, ten lobbying meetings, including a number of meetings with Fianna Fáil and so on, were registered under the Act by DAA, and we know what the intention of these were. When the Bill was passed in this House a number of weeks ago, including my amendment, which the Minister now wants to take out, about the World Health Organization guidelines, it happened to be the same week in which Fingal County Council celebrated its 25th anniversary. There was a big gala dinner in Malahide, which many of us attended, and at which the issue of airport noise featured very strongly. Everyone, including DAA, asked what we are trying to do in here, if we are trying to shut down the airport and how in God's name could Dáil Éireann ever have passed such an amendment. We know that the Whip was embarrassed. He had sent everyone home, thinking the debate had finished that night, and we managed to pull off a miracle by getting that amendment passed in the House with the numbers that were there. We all know what happened, but the fact is that this was the talk of that gathering with DAA and the upper echelons of the community at the Fingal County Council event. It was said that putting in these health safeguards would jeopardise the operation of the airport. That was the message being sent. Those of us on this side of the House happen to believe that that is not the case, that that is not an accurate narrative and that it is possible to have the sustainable development of Dublin Airport while protecting the health and well-being of residents in the area surrounding the airport. There is a difference here because we recognise that to do this comes at an extra cost to DAA. It does not mean the airport is going to close down, it does not mean it is going to be bankrupted, but it does mean that DAA will have to cough up a good bit more for noise insulation and other remedies to mitigate the established damage that aircraft noise does to those airport communities. That is the difference, and there is a difference. I can understand why the Minister might get thick about people who missed many stages of this process coming in here at the 11th hour and lecturing him, but he should not be conned that everyone on this side of the House is like that because we are not. We have followed this through from the very beginning and we will keep following through on it.
I want to deal with what we mean. Noise contours established at present in Dublin Airport are inadequate. There is substantial evidence to this effect, and the guidelines I succeeded in having inserted here under amendment No. 85, as it was at the time, which the Minister is now attempting to remove, were a great step forward because they put into print that we would have the World Health Organization guidelines in the legislation. The Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot have the Bill state that we recognise the World Health Organization guidelines but also say we must take out provisions in which it is spelled out what they are. Clearly, there is something going on here. What the Minister really wants to do is pay a sop to the WHO guidelines but in reality ignore them, and all the residents know that.
I wish to deal with a communication from a resident in Portmarnock regarding this matter. She makes a point about the reality of life in the areas which are outside DAA's self-declared contour lines and the difficulties in those contour lines. Residents have highlighted in recent days the difference between the EPA 2012 round 2 and the 2017 round 3 noise maps. They say a huge amount of a greater area and numbers of people affected, and indeed greater considerations of wildlife, have been included in round 3. Some people say the wildlife considerations are a little harebrained, and that may or may not be, but the reality is that there are legal provisions to protect habitats and wildlife, perhaps in some ways they are not as great at protecting people. That is an argument for a separate day, but those directives still exist. We know, for example, that the flight path of the current runway impacts on special areas of conservation and special areas of protection for birds, which are protected under the Habitats Directive. Under this directive, an appropriate assessment must be undertaken on any plan or project that will impact on a conservation site, as this development does. What the Minister is seeking to do through the Bill before us is exclude it from proper scrutiny. He is trying through the Bill to remove the conditions that were put in place by An Bord Pleanála to restrict the number of night flights and he is doing so in a manner which avoids the public having a right to a say on the matter. That is legally questionable, in my opinion. Residents make the point that as birds roost in these areas, any increase in nighttime traffic will impact sleep patterns, and at present the An Bord Pleanála conditions severely restrict night flights.
The removal of these conditions without appropriate assessment will, therefore, breach EU environmental law. It is ironic that birds are more protected than people but it would appear they are. The residents will utilise that as much as they can. Portmarnock residents point out that even in the middle of the night they are frequently woken up by flights coming in and going out. The Portmarnock monitoring centre has commissioned decibel readings from the DAA and it is possible to see how high the readings are, well into 80 dBs. New housing estates, such as St. Marnock's Bay in south Portmarnock, are situated under the flight path and had planning permission granted in 2017, even though the noise in those estates is unbearable.
We should remember that the DAA releases average readings regarding decibel levels in order to prevent the sound contours being expanded. It is, in essence, hiding the extent of the problem. Residents are clear the noise contours are inadequate and we need the guidelines specified by the World Health Organization, WHO. The Government succeeded in bulldozing amendments through the Seanad. It does not matter if that happened because of a lack of knowledge or interest in the Seanad, it is the same parties involved, if different people. I have detailed the net effect of those amendments. I appeal to Fianna Fáil, even at this late hour, to come back on board with us or send its Deputies home in the same way as resulted in them being missing the last time. We could then ensure we get back to having the Bill we had when it left this House.
I also echo comments by other Deputies regarding the commitment the Minister gave in the Seanad. He agreed to meet various residents and groups. He went on the record in that House as being willing to engage with that section of the community in St. Margaret's. Residents in that area are on the floor. They were in the Seanad this week when the Bill was being discussed and they have been here in the Dáil previously when it has been discussed. These people are feeling vulnerable and betrayed by these two Houses. They have been living with this situation hanging over them for years. Although the residents have been involved in a process with the DAA, they feel it has not appropriately taken on board their considerations. I agree with them and I welcome the Minister stating he will pursue this matter. He said that in the House the other night and he has said it here again today. I also welcome the Minister contacting the DAA regarding this matter subsequent to the Seanad discussion.
The residents are not going to go away. They have lived in the area for generations and have used their own money to mount a challenge to these noise levels. They now owe €200,000 in legal fees as a result of the cases they have taken in the past ten years. These are just ordinary families and they are going to be forced out of their homes. A sum of €200,000 is a great amount of money for them. It is not a large amount of money for the DAA and will not impact on its profitability. I think I speak for all of us in this House when I state the DAA has to sit down with those people and come up with a better deal. I refer to the prices offered to them to give up their way of life. They are not just giving up four walls because these are intergenerational families and have lived in this area for years. They are not going to be able to replicate the lives they have in a rural community close to the city centre with the money offered by the DAA.
This is not about money, however. These people do not want to be rich. In an ideal world, they would just want everybody to leave them alone and let them stay where they are. Given that option is not being offered to them, there has got to be a settlement that allows them to replicate what they have now in a different area. They have not got that yet. Those people should also be compensated for the large legal costs incurred. I welcome the Minister stating he has pushed the DAA and written to that body. If anything can come out of this, let us at least get this aspect of what offer should be made to the residents in place. We could at least box that off. The way we have handled this Bill will, inevitably, strengthen the hands of those of us who have made complaints to the European Union regarding this matter. Many of those complaints have a good chance of succeeding. Even if they do not, there is a great chance of us being successful in a legal challenge to this Bill, given the manner in which it has been handled.
Deputies Troy, Darragh O'Brien, Broughan and Burton are offering, in that order.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I thank Deputy Clare Daly for her sympathy but we are okay and Fianna Fáil can stand on its own two feet. We are the only two Deputies in this House to have continuously raised this issue in the last two and a half years. While we may now differ on a number of points, until today I would have said we have worked constructively together to try to improve this Bill and make a difference. I acknowledge there are genuine fears and concerns among the local community out there.
I did not come in at the 11th hour and submit amendments without having a clue what was going on with this Bill. I refer to Deputies making political points and, quite frankly, exploiting the genuine fears and concerns of people living in that locality. I will not take lectures from some Members here. I give Deputy Clare Daly a free pass this evening because we have worked so well together on this issue and this Bill for the last two and a half years. We need to bring certainty and clarity to the situation. This limbo land we have been in is not good for the airport or the residents. Deputy Brendan Ryan's party was in government for two years. These regulations were in place during that time and the Labour Party could have done absolutely anything it wished in the two years it was in government.
The Labour Party was the second party in that Government and also provided the Tánaiste. It could have done whatever it wanted in those two years. Had the Labour Party addressed this issue, we would not be here now and we would not have wasted two years on this issue with the current Minister regarding working with the DAA. This point is well made and I do not have to make it again. The residents watching this will realise that someone can come in here and try to exploit genuine fears for political gain. The Labour Party had an opportunity previously but did not use it. While we are trying to improve this Bill, and have done so, Deputy Brendan Ryan is trying to talk down to us in a condescending tone. It certainly does not work with me.
The Deputy is now taking the Government whip.
I want to make the point-----
The Deputy is taking the Government whip.
I have never been in government since I have been a Member of this House, unlike Deputy Brendan Ryan.
He is taking the whip even though he is not in government.
EU Regulation No. 598/2014 makes clear and explicit references to health. It states:
The importance of health aspects needs to be recognised in relation to noise problems, and it is therefore important that those aspects be taken into consideration in a consistent manner at all airports when a decision is taken on noise abatement objectives, taking into account the existence of common Union rules in this area. Therefore, health aspects should be assessed in accordance with Union legislation on the evaluation of noise effects.
It goes on to state: "The objectives of this Regulation are...to facilitate the achievement of specific noise abatement objectives, including health aspects, at the level of individual airports". I refer to the work done regarding this issue on this side of the House and I acknowledge the contribution of Deputy Clare Daly. Many members of other political parties never turned up to briefings and never attended Committee Stage. We were there working and we did achieve enhancement regarding health, following a Government amendment. It was a Government amendment because it has the benefit of officials to create the best and most robust amendment possible on Report Stage.
The Bill now reinforces the importance of health by way of its specific cross reference to the environmental noise directive of 2002 and the 2018 noise regulations. That is provided for in section 9 of Part 2 of the Bill which refers to the process of aircraft noise regulation and provides that the competent authority shall ensure noise at the airport is assessed in accordance with European Communities (Environmental Noise) Regulations 2008, SI 549 of 2018, and the environmental noise directive. That directive refers explicitly to the WHO. We have worked very hard on that.
I acknowledge, in particular, the work of my colleagues, Deputy Darragh O'Brien and Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee. We have worked to make the best improvement we could within the parameters set down. A former Tánaiste should know what those parameters are in respect of the EU regulations but for cheap political gain, she has come to the House to pretend things can be otherwise. I refer to the noise abatement measures. It is because of our amendment and work, as well as the work of Deputy Clare Daly, which I will always acknowledge in this regard, that the Dublin Airport Authority is no longer judge, jury and executioner in relation to noise abatement applicants. We are placing responsibility within the remit of the new independent authority. People who were previously ruled out from availing of noise abatement measures will now be able to apply for them should they wish to continue to reside in their houses. For the first time, it will not be the Dublin Airport Authority that adjudicates on the applications of those who want to consider the voluntary buy-out scheme. That is a positive step. It is welcome. I am proud of the role Fianna Fáil has played to improve the Bill within the parameters set down. While I would have done things differently if I were on the other side of the House, I am not. The Labour Party was there but it did nothing.
Deputy Troy spoke about health. I have lived right beside the airport for my whole life and, like Deputy Clare Daly who worked there, I know many people who work in the airport and depend on it for their livelihoods, to pay their mortgages and to put their kids through college. It is a very important economic driver, of that there is no doubt. I have stated that at every stage. What is of crucial and equal importance, however, is to ensure affected residents in the relevant areas have their genuine concerns heard. When the Bill was published first, there was a great deal missing from it. I would have preferred us to have gone down a different road with regard to the competent authority and I tabled an amendment on Committee Stage on the establishment of a separate executive role, which was voted down by other Members who are here today. That is a pity as it could have been passed. Nevertheless, it was voted down.
The health and well-being of communities adjacent to the airport is crucial. I will be living under the flight path for the new runway and I want to speak specifically about expanding the existing noise regulation, the insulation scheme and voluntary purchase. The amendment in that regard is one that my party and I worked on specifically and pushed time and again. We have managed to ensure that the DAA no longer has the whip hand to decide who is in the voluntary purchase scheme, who is out and what the terms of the scheme will be. Residents in the St. Margaret's and Old Cloghran areas in particular have genuine gripes about how they have been treated over the years. I have sat in meetings with them and tried to mediate between them and the DAA. I have told the Minister on a number of occasions that the DAA must go a lot further and improve the offers that are there. The authority must also look at the purchase of land for those who wish to leave. As a result of constructive efforts here, albeit not all Opposition Members were constructive, we have managed to make the changes to the legislation which mean it will no longer be Dublin Airport Authority telling people cannot join the scheme and setting out the terms, it will be the competent authority set down in legislation. That is a fact and it cannot be disputed. That is why we supported the amended Bill on the last Stage in the Dáil. That is just one of a number of changes that were made and I will mention others.
To recognise that amendments were made to the Bill and to make amendments but then vote against the Bill is contradictory in itself. We are getting changes that improve the Bill. We are setting up a competent authority and improving its independence and that is what I want. Involuntary purchase is crucial. I urge the Minister to engage with the residents and to meet, in particular, as he said he would, with those from St. Margaret's and Old Cloghran. If the legislation passes, it is a fact that the decision on who is in the scheme, the terms of the scheme and its remit will no longer rest with the Dublin Airport Authority, which is only right and proper. I worked particularly closely with the Dublin Airport Stakeholders Forum and its members on the noise insulation scheme to see how it could be expanded. We have been waiting for this legislation for two years and more if one goes back to 2014 when a Bill could have been brought through. We have been in limbo with a noise insulation scheme which is not far-reaching enough. Again, the airport authority was making the decisions on whose homes or businesses were insulated and whose were not. When the amendment was tabled by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil, I said I would work with everyone, including Government and officials, to ensure it was tweaked to make it workable. I have insisted further on official notes on the Department's understanding of the amendments. It means the competent authority will take over the existing noise insulation scheme and have the remit to expand it to the noise contours. Another change we made was to make "contour" plural to cover the existing and new runways. It will be the competent authority that makes the decision. The official note has been circulated by me and is available to all Members.
I refer to both the noise insulation and voluntary purchase schemes because I want people looking in to be really clear. It is important because there are those who are trying to muddy the waters. The official note says that, taking the revised section 20 together with the existing section 29, all existing noise insulation schemes, whether brought about through planning conditions or at the initiative of DAA will come under the remit of the noise regulator. The noise regulator will have the power to determine the relevant noise contours within which the noise contours scheme apply, including expansion of those noise contours or a review of eligibility as it deems necessary. All powers of the regulator, including monitoring and enforcement through its powers of direction, will apply to these schemes. The note further states that in addition to this, the voluntary purchase scheme will also automatically come under the remit of the noise regulator on the enactment of this Bill by virtue of this section. That mitigates the need for the additional amendment we put forward on the voluntary purchase scheme. That is an official note of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and it is in the Bill now.
I know we are not going to conclude the debate this evening. I have participated in this debate on all Stages, as have most colleagues, to be fair. When we go through the Bill, we will see that many other changes have been made on health, EU night noise regulations and WHO regulations.
This legislation needed to be strengthened. It must take a balanced approach to residents in the affected areas as the airport expands. The Bill does not automatically set aside night flight restrictions. I unequivocally oppose unrestricted night flights, as I have said time and again. Should the Bill pass, none of the existing conditions will be set aside. Thanks to my party's amendments, the Bill makes specific reference to An Bord Pleanála. That is important.
Imperfect as it was on publication, we have tried to improve this legislation at each Stage in a way that ensures an important economic driver can continue supporting jobs and growth while taking into account the neighbouring communities, one of which I have lived in for my whole life. I have pandered to no one. I have listened to my constituents, to whom I am answerable. I also have a responsibility to tell them the truth about what the Bill now contains. I respect that people can have different opinions - I am not saying I am right on everything - but I know what changes we have made to the Bill. Should it pass, I will be able to stand over it now that it has been changed significantly.
I wish to ensure that, after the Bill is passed and the competent authority is established, there is proper engagement with residents, in particular those whose homes are at risk. Some will need to move even though they do not want to. They should have been offered a better scheme at the time. I am working with them so as to ensure that they get a proper and fair deal should they move. Under this legislation, that will not be the decision of the DAA. Rather, it will be the decision of the competent authority, which will be independent of the DAA. That is only right and proper. I have fought tooth and nail to get that measure included. I thank the Minister's officials for their hours of work and the documents that have been sent to me, Members who are present and other Deputies who have engaged with the process in an attempt to improve the legislation.
Had I been in government previously and had a chance to introduce regulations, I would have started this process sooner and done it differently, but I must work within the current parameters. As it should be, the noise insulation scheme will be expanded and will be under the remit of the competent authority. In real terms, the voluntary purchase scheme was not voluntary at all. Due to their proximity to the existing and new runways, many families will have to move for their own health and well-being. They need and deserve to be treated better than they have been so far. The competent authority will be told what it must do by primary legislation and will be the arbiter.
Should the Bill pass, I want that element to progress quickly so that residents' concerns can be addressed. The valuation process that has taken place in the Ward and St. Margaret's area has been unfair. Properties have been undervalued. Proper compensation was not offered. It should have been. Residents should not have spent years dealing with this issue. At least there will be a mechanism to address it now. That is an improvement on the status quo.
If Deputies vote against the Bill at this late stage, where will we go from there? When will the next Bill be? Do we ignore the legal advice on the IAA and just introduce and pass other legislation? I would have rathered the IAA be the authority. We all expected it to be. I cannot ignore the legal advice, though. Instead, we have tried under this Bill to give independent functions to the new competent authority, for example, reporting and oversight. We have involved An Bord Pleanála and removed the measures that would have allowed the DAA alone to make determinations on how residents were impacted. Health is a crucial component. Deputy Troy has addressed it. We have ensured that definitions and regulations are included in the Bill and the official departmental notes as opposed to just being referenced. That is the truth.
These are the facts about our amendments and the welcome amendments made by others. Once legislation has been improved by amendments, will we just vote it down? I am unsure about the logic in that. If we try to improve legislation and add new sections to it but still disagree with it, where do we go? Do we leave residents in-----
Do we leave the noise insulation scheme under the control of the DAA? Should we let the DAA decide who it covers? Do we leave the DAA as the arbiter of the voluntary purchase scheme? Should undervalued offers still be given to residents? Conversely, should responsibility be given to a competent authority that follows statutory instructions? People should not have to spend another four, five, six or seven years in limbo where they are unable to move on with their lives, plan new homes if they so wish and be compensated properly for having to do so. I do not want more of that. Maybe some do so that they can use it as a political football. That is fine, as they will answer for it. I will stand over the changes that we have made to the Bill. If it is enacted, I will ensure that the competent authority does as the Dáil has instructed. We can then move forward and try to bring a resolution to these issues, which have been ongoing since I became a public representative in 2004. I was elected to the council in 2004 and to the Dáil in 2007. We have moved no further since then. This Bill could be a start in bringing about resolutions.
That the voluntary purchase and noise insulation schemes will be removed from the DAA and given to the competent authority, with the insulation scheme to be expanded and the purchase scheme to be improved, are positives. That is why we worked hard to make those amendments. We tabled an amendment on Committee Stage that would have handled matters differently, but it was voted down by other Members of the Opposition. That was fine, as people had that right, but we have tried to improve this legislation for residents so that their concerns would be listened to and they would be central to the process. However, I will be honest with them about what we have been able to achieve so far. They will know the extent of this legislation and the powers it contains.
Will the Minister recommit to engaging with those residents who are severely affected by the existing and second runways?
It will be for the DAA and others to approach the competent authority about the restrictions they want to see lifted, but I will not support unrestricted night flights at the airport. None of us would. I want to ensure that those who are impacted by noise at the airport can have their homes added to the noise insulation scheme. That is what our amendment does. If it is passed, that is what will happen. It is important.
According to a recent report, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were considering a voting pact in the European election campaign that has just begun. The two parties would support each other.
Having heard the Minister and the Fianna Fáil Deputies today, I believe it is logical that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, having worked so hard together as a coalition for the past three and a half years, including on this legislation, should express it in the European and other elections, in order that the rest of us can take them on head to head.
As always, Deputy Clare Daly put her finger on the nub of the issue. Many, if not all, of us in the House believe sustainable development is possible for Dublin Airport. Like others, I have always lived beside an airport because I come from near Baldonnel. When I was growing up and going to get the cattle and so on, fighter jets screamed overhead. I have always been accustomed to living on a flight path and I still live on one. Thankfully, given that the wind comes mostly from the south west, the noise is mostly that of planes coming in to land on the boundary of Dublin Bay North. I am aware of the profound impact it has on the population of St. Margaret's, Cloghran, which was mentioned, and all around the airport. We should certainly aim for sustainable development. All the community bodies, projects, small business centres and so on with which I have worked throughout my career and before entering politics have benefited, in respect of employment and so forth, from interacting with the airport. Nevertheless, we feel that noise and night-time flying are matters that need to be addressed and we had the opportunity in the Bill to do so definitively. My colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, rightly mentioned noise contours. I was proud in the past to represent Portmarnock and the Balgriffin-Kinsealy area, which is profoundly affected. It is important that within all the noise contours, the levels of sound are monitored and closely invigilated, with health at the core.
I listened carefully to the Minister's response to the amendments tabled by my colleagues, Deputies Brendan Ryan, Munster and Clare Daly. It seems the Minister is making it up as he goes along. That is clear from what he said about Regulation No. 598 and the way he set his argument out. There is no reason in the world not to retain Deputy Munster's amendment which related to health in general, although Deputy Brendan Ryan made this point strongly. The Minister is trying to present the matter as a conflict between the country and the European Union over Regulation No. 598 and noise levels. There is no conflict, however, because we are simply seeking to have at the heart of the legislation a recognition of the problem. The Minister refers back to the older legislation but if that deals with the matter, as he claims, in general terms which include World Health Organization guidelines, there is no reason not to accept Deputy Brendan Ryan's amendment, given that it makes the same point the Minister made. The Minister is contradicting himself and, unfortunately, not for the first time in the House, making things up. The centre of the whole issue, which we return to again and again, is regulation. Over the years, the Minister was a furious critic of financial regulation and corporate governance regulation, and rightly so. We remember his long articles about banks, governance throughout the business sector and regulators, which were effectively kidnapped by their industries, but he is doing exactly what he always railed against. He is placing a regulator in that precise situation. Nobody will be able to take it seriously as an independent regulator.
Many of us have received a great deal of poignant correspondence from affected residents and those who live near the flight path. They have said again and again that Fingal County Council cannot be the competent authority because it derives such a substantial part of its revenue from the DAA and that, therefore, it cannot be considered independent. That is an objective fact, irrespective of what Deputy Darragh O'Brien will say. Fingal County Council was created out from the old Dublin County Council 25 years ago. The airport has been the fundamental economic driver of that county council. These correspondents have indicated that the DAA has stated its own opposition to the World Health Organization guidelines. That is the real reason the Minister is not prepared to accept my amendment. The DAA itself - perhaps not the current CEO but some of his predecessors - has stated definitively that it is not prepared to accept the World Health Organization guidelines. That is the reason, not the spurious nonsense the Minister outlined about the difference between the general principle of Regulation No. 598 and what the amendments would insert in the Bill, or rather retain, given that we passed the amendment and the Seanad removed it against our will, which was appalling. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil engineered it in the Seanad. Deputy Darragh O'Brien doth protest too much because he and his colleagues were at the heart of what was achieved in the Seanad by eliminating the references to health and the World Health Organization guidelines.
On St. Margaret's, the Minister was invited to visit it on different occasions and see how bad circumstances can be, where one cannot even open a window. I hope that in the coming days, we will have some warm weather but in St. Margaret's and its environs, one cannot open one's window because the threshold of 60 dB will be easily surpassed.
The Minister spoke about the World Health Organization guidelines at length and outlined the 2002 regulations and changes at EU level. His argument, however, utterly contradicts his general point. He should either accept my amendment and follow the World Health Organization guidelines, or accept Deputy Brendan Ryan's amendment.
While I am not a member of the Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputies Darragh O'Brien and Troy referred to the time that passed before the Bill was brought before the House. There has been great interest in the matter, not least from Deputies Brendan Ryan, Munster and Clare Daly, the last of whom has done colossal work on the area throughout her time in the House. Early last summer, Deputy Clare Daly and I tabled a motion to the House, which I think is still on the full clár published on Tuesdays. The motion acknowledged the 34.4 million passengers in Irish airports in 2017; the increased use of air travel over many years; the probable impact of increased traffic due to Brexit, some of the changes that might happen due to future foreign direct investment and the new relationship we will have with the European Union if Britain finally leaves; and that the airport was planning to have 50 million passengers a year. We asked the Government to note the EU directive planning conditions and environmental impact studies which developed over the past 20 or 25 years-----
Which Private Members' business did the Deputy use for that?
It is on the clár.
One speaker only, please.
It is difficult when one is an Independent Deputy. I think I have used only one session of Private Members' business, for the Stardust committee, which the Acting Chairman will recall.