That Seanad Éireann
—deplores the failure of the Government to take a decision on the development of a second terminal at Dublin Airport;
—condemns the Government for its failure to choose a site with optimum capacity for the Airport's future growth; and
—notes the failure of the Dublin Airport Authority to provide adequate security protection to the travelling public and to airline services utilising Dublin Airport and calls on the Government to carry out an immediate review in connection with the security arrangements at all airports nationally.
I welcome the Minister of Transport to the House for this important motion. Anyone who saw the scenes of utter chaos at Dublin Airport on our television screens in recent days can be in no doubt that our national airport is in an utter mess. These problems of long delays to clear security and chronic overcrowding are not new.
During peak periods in the summer and on bank holiday weekends, such overcrowding has become normal at Dublin Airport. The uncovering of serious security breaches last week put the problems at the airport back in the public's mind and under the scrutiny of the national media. There is no doubt that Dublin Airport is struggling to cope. The time has long passed when it could function as a normal, efficient, effective working modern airport.
The airport's most basic problem is chronic overcrowding. Not only does this cause major inconvenience for the travelling public and airport staff, it also conveys an extremely negative image of Ireland to tourists and overseas business travellers alike. Most fundamentally of all, it is a dangerous security hazard. While there was quite justified concern at the security breaches that occurred at the airport last week, the most obvious threat, particularly when one viewed the situation developing over the weekend, was the question of public safety within the terminal building itself, regardless of what persons might be trying to smuggle on to an aeroplane. If an emergency situation such as a bomb scare or a fire were to develop inside the terminal building, there could be numerous fatalities and injuries in the stampede which would undoubtedly transpire.
The finger of blame for the dangerous and unacceptable situation at the airport must be pointed at the Government, which has sat idly by and allowed it to develop. We have a Government willing to allow a First World country such as Ireland have a Third World airport. One member of the public recently referred to the airport as being akin to Lagos airport, which has been rated as one of the worst airports in the world. That is quite an accolade.
For many years the Government has been aware of the extent of the problem facing Dublin Airport. We have witnessed various Ministers for Transport come and go but nothing has happened. We have been constantly promised an imminent decision on the need to develop a second terminal at the airport but the public has received nothing. The Government continues to dither over the issue of developing a new terminal and all the while Dublin Airport grinds to a halt.
The aviation sector is rapidly expanding throughout the world and Ireland is no exception. Over the past 20 years the number of people travelling has grown enormously, greatly helped by the advent of the low-cost carrier model best exemplified by the Ryanair business philosophy. A weekend away to a European city is no longer viewed as an exotic luxury by many. For those who have invested in property overseas in particular, it is a regular occurrence.
Dublin Airport has benefited hugely from this growth in the aviation sector. Last year alone, 17 million passengers passed through Dublin Airport. That figure is expected to rise year on year, with projected growth to 30 million passengers within a ten year period. However, this rapid growth is becoming the undoing of the airport's success, not least because the Government has stalled and appears to be unwilling to act to alleviate the problems arising there. Critically, this inaction is also preventing the airport from tapping into the great potential presented by passenger growth.
The bottleneck preventing the expansion of Dublin Airport, and the potential this represents in terms of job creation and increases in tourism revenue, is the Government. It is unacceptable that it has stalled and dithered on this critical issue. It has been shaky on the issue since it first took office and in its 2002 programme for Government it could not even give a commitment to develop a second terminal for the airport, even though it was clear a new terminal was needed.
Instead, the Government gave a commitment merely to examine the possibility of an independent terminal at the airport and, despite glaringly obvious evidence to the contrary, remained unsure as to the feasibility of a second terminal. Three years on it would appear it is still being examined. One can only conclude the Government has its head in the clouds or perhaps the years of being ushered through Dublin Airport without having to endure the endless queues faced by the public has made it blind to the chronic overcrowding.
Why does it take the Government so long to act? It is little wonder this Government, too long in office and utterly paralysed, failed to spend its full capital allocation in 2004. A long list of reports has been received and read by the Government on the need for a second terminal — the Doogan report in 2002; the Aer Rianta master plan; the Mullarkey report; and the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill report — yet it has continued to dither.
It defies logic that the Government is willing to sit back and allow utter chaos to develop at our airport. No one has been called to account for these delays, much less asked to explain why making a decision on a much needed second terminal is taking so long. It seems that the same old mantra is now being repeated by the current Minister for Transport. His predecessor, Deputy Brennan, constantly told us that a decision was imminent. Despite having received 13 expressions of interest in building a second terminal he was not able to take that decision before the Fianna Fáil axe ended his opportunity to deliver.
A decision is also imminent from the current Minister but we have seen nothing. In the absence of the full details one must rely on media speculation, which indicates that the Government's preferred option is that the Dublin Airport Authority build and operate a second terminal on airport land. It would appear that the Progressive Democrats commitment to a privately owned and independently operated terminal has been pushed to one side.
The Government's apparent support for the Dublin Airport Authority's plan has more worrying consequences than whether the terminal is State or privately owned. The greater worry lies in the fact that the Dublin Airport Authority's site may not be the best site for the development of a second terminal.
This site, which lies to the north of the existing terminal, has several characteristics that make it inadequate and less than ideal. The capacity of a second terminal is critical, not least in dealing with the predicted growth in passenger numbers at Dublin Airport. As I understand it, the Dublin Airport Authority site at Dublin Airport is limited in size and could not be expanded in the future. If we accept the plan of the authority, we could be left with a less than optimal site that will reach full capacity quickly. This may leave us in the position in ten years of having to consider building a third terminal to cope with demand.
Vision is required from the Minister for Transport. A site must be selected that will allow a terminal to be developed that has growth potential into the future. Short-term measures are not enough. The consequences of user growth being underestimated can be disastrous, as evidenced by the M50 motorway and more recently, by the waste water treatment plant in Dublin, which is insufficient. There was no foresight used in the latter development, even though the Minister stated this was the way forward and the plant was exactly what Dublin required. Now we find the plant is inadequate.
The only way to overcome the problems at Dublin Airport is to develop a new terminal on a greenfield site. A site to the west of the existing terminal, sandwiched between the existing runway and the proposed new runway is the best location. Greenfield sites, largely chosen for their future development potential, are now the norm internationally. It would be a retrograde step for the Government to opt for a design concept, favoured by the Dublin Airport Authority, which is falling out of favour internationally. However, the Government is taking a short-term view and has not considered anything other than the plan put to it by the authority. Fine Gael is not convinced this is the best option for the airport.
I urge the Government to act immediately on the second terminal. Its failure to act to date is impacting negatively on the business and tourism sectors. It is tarnishing Ireland's image abroad and endangering the safety and security of the travelling public.
A decision on a second terminal cannot be delayed any longer. Action is needed now. The location and future capacity of a second terminal are critical issues and if they are not dealt with properly, we face the prospect of returning to this issue shortly and passengers face the prospect of more overcrowding at the airport.
The examples of security breaches highlighted last week are further evidence of the deterioration in conditions at Dublin Airport. The level of security breaches detected, including the smuggling of knives, firearms and bomb-making equipment, is very frightening.