Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Debate resumed on amendment No. 3:
"Amendment of Act of 1993 - Crew Peer Support Programmes
59. The Act of 1993 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 14:
"Crew Peer Support Programme
14C. (1) The Irish Aviation Authority shall periodically review the crew peer support programmes provided by the holders of air carrier licences or otherwise made available by them to crew pursuant to the requirements of CAT.GEN.MPA. 215 to Annex IV (Part – CAT) of Regulation (EU) No. 965/2012.
(2) A comprehensive review of each such support programme shall be conducted by the Irish Aviation Authority at least every three years and no more frequently than at one-year intervals, in respect of which it shall consider the following:
(a) the nature of the programme having regard to the size and diversity
of the air carrier in question;
(b) the ability of the programme to provide access to the requisite
range of expert supports;
(c) the accessibility of such a programme including encouragement as to its use and the freedom of crew to access an alternative crew peer support programme to meet their personal needs;
(d) the adequacy of confidentiality arrangements;
(e) the involvement of crew representatives and recognised stakeholder groups in establishing and supporting the programme;
(f) the selection and training of peers, and their independence from any conflicting management or supervisory functions within the Air Operator’s Certificate holder or otherwise;
(g) the provision of adequate resources to the programme;
(h) the provision of mental health professionals to support peers when required by programme users; and
(i) the accessibility of programmes services and support by online and other electronic means.
(3) In conducting these comprehensive reviews, the Irish Aviation Authority shall seek feedback from users of the programme to the maximum extent feasible, consistent with maintaining strict confidentiality concerning the identity of crew and their personal circumstances.
(4) In the event of any deficiency in a crew peer support programme being found during a comprehensive review, the Irish Aviation Authority may direct changes to any such programme, which shall be binding. That shall be without prejudice to the ability to the Irish Aviation Authority’s power to direct changes in respect of deficiencies other than those identified during a periodic comprehensive review.
(5) The Irish Aviation Authority shall convene the Crew Peer Support National Forum which shall include representatives of:
(a) the air carriers that it regulates and any persons engaged in the provision of support services to them or on their behalf;
(b) pilot associations and other recognised stakeholder groups and anypersons from those associations engaged in the provision of support services to them or on their behalf; and
(c) the Medical Assessor.
(6) The Minister for Transport shall appoint a chairman of the Crew Support National Forum.
(7) The Crew Peer Support National Forum, which shall receive secretariat services from the Irish Aviation Authority, has the following functions:
(a) the sharing of best practice on crew peer support programmes;
(b) encouraging the implementation of cooperation and joint resource sharing between different crew peer support programmes;
(c) the development of a common (anonymised) data base to identify
trends and to monitor the effectiveness of crew peer support programmes;
(d) approve and monitor the content and delivery of Peer Support training programmes;
(e) making recommendations to the Irish Aviation Authority as to the requirements of crew peer support programmes, and
(f) creating or encouraging the provision of a national crew peer support programme under a separate structure, whether through cooperation between programmes, or by other means, and to be accessible—
(i) by all crew irrespective of their employer,
(ii) by crew not willing to use the programme made available by their employer for personal confidentiality or other reasons, and
(iii) to crew who are out of work.".".
- (Senator Regina Doherty)
The purpose of amendment No. 3 is to provide peer support. I will go through the section line by line to discuss why it is imperative the peer support programme be put on a legislative footing. In a statement by the Minister a number of weeks ago on why it the Department's view that we should not put it in legislation the reason given was there was no need to do so because we subscribe to Regulation (EU) 2018/1042, which was implemented by the Commission a number of months ago. It concerns me that the written communications between us and the Department tell us the Department does not feel that crew peer support should be in primary legislation because it is in Regulation (EU) 2018/1042.
The understanding of the Department, which we have in writing, is that the airlines are responsible for putting in place the peer support programmes for their own flight crews. However, when we read the regulation, it states airlines are responsible for a hell of a lot more than just providing peer support programme for their own flight crews. It states that an operator "shall enable, facilitate and ensure access to a proactive and non-punitive support programme that will assist and support flight crew in recognising, coping with, and overcoming any problem which might negatively affect their ability to safely exercise the privileges of their licence. Such access shall be made available to all flight crew." That is clearly far more comprehensive than just putting in place something wishy-washy.
I want to concentrate on the amendment we have tabled. Under Commission regulation 2018/1042, each airline must facilitate access for pilots to non-punitive peer support programmes. They must fundamentally, progressively and proactively help them overcome problems which might negatively affect their ability to safely exercise the privileges of their licence. The regulation came into effect on February 2021 under the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, rules. It is required that it is effective in each member state by August 2022. We know that some peer support programmes have been provided in Ireland for many years. One, in particular, has been operating very effectively. However, there is no consistency in the provision of peer support programmes by the multiple airlines operating the country. Some airlines are protracted in their views that the peer support person should be selected by management, which results in the entire programme being undermined and ineffective. The amendment that the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association, IALPA, has proposed, as a number of colleagues have mentioned today, additional national requirements in respect of crew peer support programmes. Under these requirements, the IAA would review the peer support programmes every three years under specific criteria, and not under a wink and a nod such as that proposed in the draft documents that we received from IAA as to what it would do, to reassure us that there was no need for us to put the requirements in legislation. According to the amendment, comprehensive and specified criteria for the review would be required. The IAA would be required to seek feedback from users of the programmes, if and where feasible; and to direct changes to the programmes where deficiencies are identified. It would also be required to convene a national forum whose functions would include the sharing of best practice; encouraging co-operation between different programmes; the monitoring of the effectiveness of the programmes; the approval and monitoring the content and delivery of peer support training programmes; and the creation or encouragement of the provision of a national crew peer support programme, so that there is consistency of delivery and consistency in the provision of support and services to the licence holders. More importantly, it would ensure that there is consistency in upholding the standards of safety that we claim to hold dear to us in these Chambers.
In response, unfortunately, I believe a Government amendment will be introduced, which will just require the IAA to conduct a review of the effectiveness of the crew peer support programmes, almost at any stage it likes. The language could not be more evasive. What we are really seeking to do is to address the matters such as the promotion of these programmes, the consistency of the programmes and the trust that is needed to make sure that the programmes work in the best interests of the licenceholders, who all have the same issues as all other professionals in the country but with much more serious consequences if they are not managed and minded. We want to address matters such as the independence of the peers from management or the supervisory functions. We need to address the selection and training of the peers. Unfortunately, the Government amendment does not provide for a national crew peer support forum, as we have requested. The Members of this House and indeed the officials from the Department have engaged extensively on the matter. However, it is not yet clear, as far as the Minister and the Government are concerned, how the objective of such a forum will allow for the creation or the encouragement of the provision of national peer support for crew. Previous amendments that I have tabled have been ruled out of order. The Government amendments to be moved later will establish a forum to discuss the matter of national peer support programmes. We will be relying on a forum that has no compellability, no timelines for when it is going to meet, no clear charter as to what the agenda of what the forum is going to be, and no encouragement features to ensure that everybody who has an interest in the safety of our airlines and aviation industry will be there to sit down and have a conversation about what a peer support programme should look like nationally. If everybody is not at the table, I do not really understand how we can come together and effectively say that we are going to create a single national consistent and supportive programme to support the aviation licence holders in the country.
From speaking privately to the Minister of State and from hearing her public utterances, I know that she is supportive of the proposal, and believes that a proposed peer support programme would effectively be a very good thing. However, I am mindful that we apparently do not believe that we are there yet, despite the fact that an exemplary peer support programme has been running since the 1970s that is state-of-the-art and could be used as a benchmark to show and prove what we can do nationally if we have the mindset to do it. I also note that during the course of our meetings, a number of proposals and draft documents were sent to us by officials in the IAA to try to dissuade Members of this House from supporting or even introducing amendments that were recognised and requested by the IALPA. Listing and reading the measures that it will take, which are supposed to assuage us, I really am not sure whether the tail is wagging the dog or the dog is wagging the tail. I know many people think that we are making a mountain out of a molehill by stretching this legislative process out. I do not doubt for a moment how important it is to get it passed. However, we do not want to pass a piece of legislation that is completely flawed. To my mind, legislation that does not address a significant amount of the safety regulation that is required in this country is a very dangerous piece of legislation, because it gives the pretence of doing something when in reality nothing is being done at all.
I support amendment No. 3 that has been put down by my colleagues in relation to putting in primary legislation the specific details of a peer support programme, the specific regulations that our airlines will be required to comply with and the specific authority that will be given to the IAA to review, regulate, control and mind the licence holders in the industry. They are powers that the IAA says that it does not want, which is really bizarre. I have never come across a regulatory agency that has refused extra powers in my life before. Yet, we have been at pains for months to try to persuade the IAA that it needs the powers. In my view, we absolutely need peer support programmes to be consistent, uniform and available to every single member that is a licence holder who is responsible for the safety of crew members, passengers and cargo planes in this country. I ask the Minister of State to seriously consider the flaws of her response that this issue will not be addressed now but at some stage in the future, and that we need to sit around a table to discuss the matter. It is a table that nobody is ever going to be compelled to sit around to ensure that we have the safety of the people who run, manage and are licensed to fly the aircraft in this country, whether commercial, passenger or search and rescue operations, and to ensure that we do well by the people that we put our trust in every single time we fly into our of Ireland.
I probably should have interjected before Senator Doherty rose to speak, but now is as good a time as any. The Minister of State will have received a letter today from IALPA. I wish to put the content of that letter on the record of the House. It reads:
I refer to the script of the debate in Seanad Éireann on Thursday, 16 June 2022. An extract is attached for your convenience. A considerable amount of time in the debate was dedicated to the in-house (or lack of) aviation technical expertise of Department Officials. As you know, the R116 Accident Report does not comment favourably on the aviation technical expertise available in your Department. It is the IALPA observation and concern that none of the officials we met with you to discuss the Air Navigation & Transport Bill demonstrated an aviation technical expertise, at a level necessary to appreciate the significance of some provisions of EASA regulations and guidance material and to support appropriate transposition into national legislation.
The letter continues:
It has been an issue of considerable concern that the [Air Navigation and Transport Bill] was drafted, in the first instance, by officials who had unique access to the draft R116 Accident Report but had no expertise to the technical nuances of the Accident Report. As IALPA recalls the conversation, they stated that they took the draft findings into consideration when drafting the new Bill, but this was not evident to us in our reading of the draft Bill. It is our impression, and we could be wrong, that officials in your department relied heavily on the IAA for technical expertise in countering the IALPA amendments. It is our position, that if this is the case, then it was wholly inappropriate for you to rely on the advice from the very entity, the reform of which is the central thrust of the [Air Navigation and Transport Bill]. Further, we have pointed out in numerous correspondence what we believe to be incorrect or misleading interpretations of the EASA documentation which appear to support the view that there is an absence of aviation technical expertise available to you in the Department.
As you will recall, your speech in the Oireachtas [in] November 2021 placed reliance on the Bureau Veritas Report with regard to the IAA. We have raised with you directly the shortcomings in the Bureau Veritas report with respect to other recommendations in the R116 Accident Report, shortcomings explicitly identified in the report by the report's authors. Any reliance on this report as meeting the standard required in the recommendation is therefore, in our opinion, untenable.
In summary, ... we are concerned by your response in the Seanad (16 June) when you stated: "Yes, we have expertise in the Department in respect of-----". It is our observation that the Department has not changed the aviation technical expertise available to it before or after the R116 accident (March 2017) or since the publication of the Accident Report in November 2021.
We are discussing legislation that will regulate the IAA and other entities in this State for quite some considerable time to come. I asked the Minister of State at the last engagement here if she had an aviation expert on her staff. It is my belief, as well as that of IALPA, that her response was that she did. This is factually untrue. There is no aviation expert in the Department of Transport. The first thing I would like to establish before we go any further is whether it is the case that there is an expert employed by the Department of Transport. I am talking about a State employee, not a contractor or consultant, who is an aviation expert. I would like that question answered, after which I want to come back in.
I responded to this last time. I am very conscious of getting through the legislation. I will give a response again today but I would like to keep it brief, if that is possible, because I am conscious we have important legislation before us.
The IAA has more than 120 safety experts committed to their roles, including 25 highly experienced pilots with aggregated experience of hundreds of years of flying in all large aircraft types, 25 highly qualified and experienced engineers with aggregated hundreds of years of experience in all aspects of airworthiness, other safety experts, including air traffic controllers, air navigation services engineers, as well as experts in aerodrome security, aircraft certification, pilot training and licensing, ground operations, charting, drone regulation, risk management, statistical analysis, aviation medicine etc. It is a leading global expert in safety management systems and it is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, safety management panel, recognised and acknowledged by other states as an excellent regulator with frequent requests for assistance.
Apart from the limited circumstances where there is a reason for a different approach, in normal practice, as with other expert agencies, the IAA is the key source of advice on matters pertaining to aviation safety and security. It is designed to be and its staff are the coalface experts. The IAA is very extensive and has highly regarded technical experts. It operates as part of the executive framework, both with an obligation to decide on matters within its remit and on an independent basis. A different approach is appropriate where it is necessary to have expertise to assess the conduct of the functions by the IAA or in relation to the possible assignment to it of new functions. The Department has availed of such expertise on a number of occasions over recent years.
My Department has access to appropriate aviation expertise in order to provide effective oversight of the IAA. The Department largely operates an external contracting model for specialist aviation expertise. Independent aviation experts are engaged periodically to conduct an examination of the IAA’s performance of its functions relating to the application and enforcement of safety standards pursuant to section 32 of the Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993. The most recent section 32 examination was carried out in 2019 and the next one is scheduled for 2023. My Department also recently contracted expertise to undertake a review of the IAA’s regulation of areas outside the European aviation safety regulatory regime. In terms of advice on the evolving aviation regulatory and safety oversight environment, the Department has engaged external expertise to advise on, among other things, the framing of aviation coastguard activity provisions in the Air Navigation and Transport Bill and advice to inform our engagement with the Irish Aviation Authority on draft search and rescue rules.
I see significant advantages to the approach of externally contracting specialist aviation expertise as required. It gives you greater access to a range, depth and quantum of expertise compared to a standing appointment of a single expert on contract or otherwise. Notwithstanding the advantages of this approach, I am committed to examine our practice in the area. My Department will undertake further analysis of best practice in this area by reviewing oversight of aviation safety regulation in other jurisdictions and oversight of safety regulation in other sectors in Ireland. We are now moving to scope this work more fully and decide the arrangements for delivery.
I hope that clears up the matter. I addressed this at the last meeting we had here. I am very anxious that we proceed with the business of today, which is to move through and discuss and debate this legislation before us.
I am very glad the Minister of State had the opportunity to make that comprehensive statement because I fear, from looking at the transcripts of the last engagement that we had, we interrupted her so many times that she did not get to finish a sentence. Therefore, I am glad she had that opportunity.
However, I have to be honest with the Minister of State with regard to her statement and the safety recommendation updates for recommendations 2021-031 and 2021-029 that were uploaded to the Air Accident Investigation United, AAIU, website on the 17th. Both of those recommendations arising from R116 failings and from the loss of life from that terrible accident highlighted the fact that neither our search and rescue nor our Department had any expertise. The Department was challenged with reviewing and looking at the expertise. The Minister of State just outlined all of the expertise that is available in the IAA. It is true and it is very reflective of the reality. What is very concerning is that this legislation that has passed the Dáil and which the Government is trying to pass through this House has been drafted to regulate the IAA, and yet, the Minister of State told us the people who are assisted her in drafting the legislation to regulate IAA are, indeed, in the IAA.
Looking at the Department's response to the AAIU, it cited that Department of Transport does not have any in-house expertise. It has contracted aviation expertise available to it, which is great. However, the recent examples the Minister of State cited of the Department’s engagement of expertise to assign or advise on the framing of search and rescue provisions for the Air Navigation and Transport Bill raises the question of who the adviser was for the rest of this Bill. The Minister of State just outlined that the people she relied upon to draft this entirely new regulation and legislation to govern not only our aviation industry but the State authority that is manned to make sure that industry lives up to the standard we expect were the very people who are employed by the regulatory authority the legislation is supposed to be guiding. I hope the Minister of State can tell me that somebody else, whether contracted or not, advised the drafters – be they in the Department or on the Attorney General’s team – relied on more than the expertise in the IAA to draft legislation that is responsible for governing the IAA.
It is not even putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. It is beyond belief.
I thank the Minister of State for the brief she has just given us with respect to the aviation expertise that is available in the IAA. I am delighted they are there. It is vitally important that the IAA is staffed with experts in all aspects of aviation in order that it can do the job we are legislating for it to do.
However, moving on from what Senator Doherty has said, I still have not got an answer today as to whether the Department of Transport has an aviation expert on its staff. I do not care how many contractors, consultants or anything else there are. I will come back to the IAA's input into the legislation in a few moments. I want a simple "Yes" or "No". Do we have an expert in the Department of Transport, employed by the Department of Transport, paid by the State, paying his or her PRSI, contributing to his or her pension for public service? Do we have such an expert on the Department's staff?
Just to assist Senator Craughwell, section 59 is very explicit and the Minister of State has given a very clear answer this afternoon. I think we need to be able to proceed. All of us agree safety is paramount. The Bill provides as follows: it shall be the duty of the company to provide assistance and advice as the Minister may require; it shall be the duty of the company to give the Minister such information as may be specified; and it shall be the duty of the company to permit the Minister to have access to all documents which are under its control. The Minister of State has made it quite clear. It is contained within the legislation dealing with the demands and requests of the IAA, to be fair to the Minister of State.
Unless the Minister of State wants to respond, I am now going to put the question.
I am sorry, I do not think the Minister of State has answered the questions I have just put to her.
I have answered the question. I have clearly outlined the independence of the IAA. I have answered the question.
No, sorry. The Acting Chairperson must excuse me for a moment. The question is very clear. Who with technical and legal expertise and with aviation expertise assisted the Minister of State and the Department with drafting the legislation? That is a very clear question. If the Minister of State is relying on the experts in the IAA we have a serious issue with regard to legislation that has been drafted by a body for that body itself. It is as if we were drafting legislation on meat plants and went down to one of the meat barons and asked him or her to give us a hand with it. It is outrageous.
In all conscience I cannot progress with this legislation. I know the Minister of State thinks I am trying to talk down the Bill. I am not. I want this Bill passed. However, if there is a question mark over the drafting of the Bill as to who was involved, then as a parliamentarian I am obliged to follow through and get answers to that question. It is a simple "Yes" or "No" answer. Do they have an aviation expert on their staff? I can answer it here myself from the Air Accident Investigation Unit, AAIU, report which states that it is still under consideration. If the answer is "No", the Minister of State should just simply say "No" and let us move on to the next section.
I have answered Senator Craughwell's question. The parliamentary draftsperson from the Office of the Attorney General provided the drafting advice and the Bill was prepared by officials with the Department with the support of the IAA.
They are drafting their own legislation.
They are an independent----
One of the recommendations of the AAIU, arising from a really serious accident which resulted in lost lives of loved people in this country, highlighted the fact that the Department does not have sufficient specialist aviation expertise to enable it to discharge effective oversight of the full range of IAA activities. The Department on two occasions accepted every single recommendation that was put to it yet we are still standing here with probably the biggest piece of legislation we are going to conduct for the aviation industry and the Minister of State is telling us that the experts who came to be relied upon to draft this legislation are the very people we are looking to regulate in the industry. It does not make any sense. It really undermines the authority of the Department that they are drafting legislation to govern a State body that has been providing the Department with all the information. It would not happen in any other Department or sector. It galls me that the Minister of State would stand here and think it is okay.
I think the Minister of State has responded so we will now put the question.
Sorry, Acting Chairperson, the Minister of State has not responded under any circumstances. Not in our wildest imagination can we believe that the Minister of State has responded. The only thing I know now is that the Minister of State has told us there were consultants involved and that the IAA was involved in the drafting of this legislation. The Department is asking the people we want to regulate to draft the legislation. Let us get serious here. We should have total separation between those who are to be regulated and those who are writing the regulations.
Senator Buttimer referred to section 59 in respect of the advice the IAA will provide to the Minister. That has nothing to do with the legislation, it is after the legislation is passed. The IAA has a role in advising whichever Minister is in power as to various things with respect to aviation. The IAA is the regulatory body for which we are passing legislation through this House. If we cannot satisfy ourselves that there is a clear separation between the IAA and the drafters of the legislation, I want to know who drafted the legislation. If it was in-house people in the Department and there is no aviation expertise, then where are we going?
The Senators have made their questions extremely clear. The House has heard them. We have heard from the Minister of State.
We cannot move forward without answers.
Senator Boylan wants to come in.
I was not going to come in on this section. However, with all due respect to the Minister of State, I think there are questions that have come to light. The last time we were having this conversation, I accepted that Departments will seek outside expertise. That happens in lots of Departments. Many organisations will hire consultants who have the expertise that is not in-house.
What I am seeming to hear today, however, is that the Minister of State will not confirm that it was in-house or, if it was not in-house, which consultant it was. There is nothing commercially sensitive in saying we used this consultant who has this expertise. It would be for the benefit of everyone if we could just know who gave the aviation expertise.
I do not think there is anything wrong in seeking expertise if it is not there in-house. However, we deserve to know who provided it. Saying the Attorney General drafted the legislation, with all due respect to the Office of the Attorney General, they are legal experts and will draft legal documentation but they do not have the aviation expertise. Somebody had to be feeding aviation expertise into this Bill and it is important that we know who that was.
I would like to remind Senators that this Bill is mainly about reforming structures. It is not about recreating the regulatory framework. In respect of the expert input, that was sought for the search and rescue. As I have said, the parliamentary draftsperson from the Office of the Attorney General provided drafting advice and the Department officials worked with the IAA, which has all of that technical expertise that I outlined earlier. This is about a structural change within the regulatory framework.
It is important to say that the IAA is an independent body. What we want to do here is ensure that this legislation is in line with best practice across the world and across Europe. The aim of today's debate is to get that over the line and to talk through all the amendments that are of concern to Senators.
I have to bring in Senators Doherty and Boylan quickly. I am conscious that we do want to put the question.
I do not want to put the question because we have not even got to talking about peer support crews in any meaningful shape or form.
The Minister of State is right insofar as the bulk of this Bill does not relate to regulatory provisions. The bit we are stuck on does. The bit we have been talking about for months now in this House and externally at private meetings is all about regulation. The charge in the letter today from IALPA that was received by the Minister of State and copied to all of us is that the only expert advice the Minister has received with regard to responding to the changes of regulation in the Bill is by the very body that should be providing that regulatory system under the law we are talking about. What we have now is the tail wagging the dog.
That is not acceptable in any way, shape or form.
I am grateful to Senator Craughwell. What we have established today is that, despite the AAIU putting forward clear recommendations, there is a clear deficiency in the Department of Transport in that it does not have any aviation experts. Imagine a Department with responsibility for transport not having an aviation expert but buying the services of one every time that is required. When the Department needs it in the context of regulatory changes that are being suggested in what is the first Bill designed to regulate the aviation industry in a long time, the body that it took advice from as to whether it would accept or not accept something - whether it was needed or not needed - is the body we are seeking to legislate in respect of today. That is beyond comprehension. It really is not acceptable.
The AAIU recommendations have all been accepted by the Department and are being acted upon.
That is not true. On the website the other day, the Minister of State's spokesperson indicated on the Minister's behalf that the recommendation was accepted. This is boasting in respect of recommendations 29 and 31. The relevant statement goes on to say that the Department will buy expertise as and when it needs it and does not see the relevance of having somebody contracted 40 hours a week - week in and week out - as being of benefit to it. That is not in progress. Putting a last line on a recommendation where people lost their lives to say that the matter will be reviewed periodically and the Department will get back to us is not taking seriously the recommendations that were made by the AAIU. The Minister of State can dress it up or down as she likes, but it is not.
As I said previously, my Department will undertake further analysis in respect of best practice in this area and will review oversight of aviation and aviation safety regulation in other jurisdictions. It will also review the oversight of safety regulation in other sectors in Ireland. Notwithstanding the approach in relation to contracting the advice, I am committed to examining our practice in this area.
That is not in the legislation.
I reiterate the point. Nobody is saying that the IAA is not independent. Is the Minister of State saying that the Department sought the advice of the IAA with regard to legislation that was relevant to the IAA? That is the critical point here? Nobody is calling into question that the IAA is being set up as an independent body. Is the Minister of State saying that she sought advice on this legislation, which refers directly to the IAA?
Yes. This legislation is about reforming the structures; it is not about the regulatory framework here.
Sorry, we are not going to put the question. We cannot put the question because we have not even debated the question, apart from Senator Doherty's input.
I have to be fair to the Minister of State.
No, the Acting Chairperson has to be fair to the public. The flying public are the people the Acting Chairperson has to be fair to. Four loved people lost their lives in the accident involving Rescue 116. There were clear recommendations laid down as a result of that accident.
We are talking about a massive piece of legislation here that will be used to regulate air navigation and transport in this country for years to come. It would be wrong, in every sense of the word, if there is a conflict of interest anywhere in the drafting process relating to this legislation.
If the people who drafted it were in the IAA, then it is wrong because, at the end of the day, there has to be separation between the regulated and the regulator. What would happen if we decided in the morning that we would take the approach of putting a couple of pilots onto the board of the IAA who are also flying for some company or other? What sort of regulation would we have then? That is what we are talking about here. We are talking about mixing the regulated with the regulator. That is fundamentally wrong.
The staff of the Attorney General's office, as my colleague said, are experts in the legality of drafting legislation. Who is the person in the Department of Transport who drafted this legislation and what expertise did he or she have? He or she could have listened to the IAA. If the IAA was holding the pen, however, we have a serious problem. This Bill should not progress until we find out exactly who is who and what is what in the context of the drafting.
The Acting Chairperson wants to push this forward and the Minister of State wants to push it forward. God knows, everybody wants to push it forward. It would be wrong of us to push forward flawed legislation, however. If there is a conflict of interest somewhere, then the Bill is deeply flawed. Please tell me, Acting Chairperson, that you would not bring in your own children to sit down and agree the rules of the House. That is just not the way it works.
That is totally irrelevant.
For the record, we have given 40 minutes to this amendment. I have given lots of time.
We gave two and a half hours a week ago and we still did not get the answer. A simple "Yes" or "No", "I do have" or "I do not have" would get us past this point.
I have to work within the parameters that are set out for me.
I am afraid the House decides the parameters. Senator Sherlock cannot just say that she is the Acting Chairperson and that she is going to push this through and to hell with it.
As a public representative, I am entitled to get the answer, whether it is "Yes" or "No". I am obliged to do it. We are talking about safety. Already, in this country, four people lost their lives. The Department of Transport was damned to hell in the report relating to that accident in the context of its failure to have proper oversight. So was the IAA, but to a lesser degree because it was not sure of its responsibility in the area. We have to be realistic. We cannot ignore what has happened in the past. Those who do not remember the past are destined to relive it.
By God, if we were to allow this legislation go forward knowing in our heart of hearts that it was written by the very people who we are setting out to regulate, it would be wrong in every sense of the word. I will not be bullied or bamboozled into changing my position until I get an answer. I believe I am entitled to that. If I get that answer, I will run through this legislation as quickly as possible. However, I am not running through legislation that was written by those for whom we are trying to legislate. It would be wrong to do so. Do not tell me, in all your years of experience, that you would feel any different from me, Acting Chairperson.
I thank Senator Craughwell. Obviously, in my capacity as Chair, I am limited in what I can say from this position. The record will clearly show the questions that have been set out here today at length. I am conscious that Senator Doherty wants to make another contribution. Then we will have to put the question.
I am conscious that the Minister of State has been at pains to say that this legislation is not about regulation. The amendments that have caused the delay to this legislation progressing in the past number of months are all about giving powers of regulation to the IAA. I am mindful as to why the Minister of State indicated that she took on board contracted special aviation expertise in her dealings with the IAA. Whether it is the IAA's own functions or whether it was with regard to developing information in respect of search and rescue, which is a different topic but which is related to the same recommendation, the Department did not feel the need to take on external contracted expertise other than the IAA in order to respond to all of these regulatory amendments tabled in respect of the Bill.
I am of the view that we have a legal conflict of interest. I would be minded to suspend the sitting in order that we, as Members, can take legal advice as to whether we are doing something that involves a breach of trust between two authorities. The Department of Transport is supposed to be governing the other; it is a not a case of the other governing the Department.
The Leader has made an assertion that needs to be investigated.
I propose to suspend the House until 5.05 p.m. in order that I can take advice on what she said.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 5 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 5.10 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 5 p.m. and resumed at 5.10 p.m.