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 Header Item Taxi Regulations (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Priority Questions
 Header Item Air Services Provision

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan] That is a wonderful idea which should be executed. Before doing so, the Government should ensure there has been dialogue and consultation with everybody involved. I am sure the people to whom I have spoken have better things to do than ringing politicians; if everything was all right, they would not be doing that. They have concerns and the Minister of State's comments will not satisfy them. These people are seeking another six months so they can be properly briefed on this, with time for any issues causing significant problems to be dealt with.

After this is done, Fine Gael - the party of law and order - can ram the law down their throats. Is there any chance the Government will speak with the interested parties in the mean time? If it does so, the process will be right, everybody will be on board and it will be a success. The Minister of State should provide a chance for dialogue with the people involved.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly That started as a compliment but I do not know how it ended.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan It is Christmas, although I am an atheist.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The Minister of State should be careful.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly The last thing the Irish taxi industry needs is more time. Nobody has consulted more with the taxi industry and its drivers than I have. I get taxis all the time and I have met representatives of all the groups on multiple occasions. The taxi industry has many great people working in it but it is not an homogeneous group, and nothing I say will completely satisfy the entire group. We have consulted far and wide and met representatives, allowing for submissions. We formed a committee, which I chaired as intended. It met for a long time and formulated 46 recommendations. Within the laws that exist, which will be changed, and the regulations I have outlined, we have put forward many measures that will come through legislation. The most comprehensive taxi Bill in the history of the State will come before the Houses in January and there will be a reinforcement of regulations. With all those measures, we will change the industry substantially.

I sense from the Deputy's concern about an issue I feel strongly about myself. That is the issue of rural taxis. I ensured taxi drivers from outside the capital and other cities were involved with the committee; a gentleman from Kerry who drives a taxi full-time was part of the review group. I have met many groups from rural areas in the likes of Letterkenny, Portlaoise or various other locations around the country. I have always taken their issues on board, and I will continue to do so.

The last thing we need is more time with this issue. We must change the industry, which needs an overhaul never before seen. We must ensure that the people driving cars should be doing so. People will drive taxis tonight who should not be behind the wheel and they need to be taken out. It is as simple as that and I intend to follow that through. Standards must be maintained and brought to a certain level, and I will ensure this happens. A number of qualitative measures are required to improve the industry, which are listed in the review I spoke about. For example, communications at all levels can be improved.

I have the latest comprehensive industry update, which outlines the changes that will take effect on 1 January, 7 January and 31 January. It is good stuff. For example, anybody getting a taxi - particularly young people or ladies - will be able to see on their phone if the person driving a taxi should be doing so. People can do that even before they get into the car, meaning they can be safe and sure that the person is authorised to drive the taxi. There will be strong consequences for a driver or vehicle owner if the information is not up to date. There are a number of other issues and I will take the Deputy's concerns on board.

Ceisteanna - Questions

Priority Questions

Air Services Provision

 1. Deputy Timmy Dooley Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his intentions with regard to the State's holding in Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57533/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly The question relates to the Minister's intentions concerning the State's shareholding in Aer Lingus. This shareholding is one of the assets included in the State asset disposal programme and the Government has agreed that the shareholding is to be sold at an appropriate time but only when market conditions are favourable and at an acceptable price to be agreed by Government. A steering group has been established to progress the sale and to examine the potential disposal options and the issues that may need to be addressed in the context of the disposal. The steering group is chaired by my Department and comprises representatives from the Department of Finance, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and NewERA.

NewERA continues to provide advice and expertise to the steering group.  In view of the complexities involved in this particular disposal, NewERA has recently tendered for the appointment of an adviser to undertake additional analyses focused on evaluating the best options for a disposal in order to maximise the return for the Exchequer while protecting the interests of the consumer and preserving a competitive environment. As the Deputy will be aware, the European Commission is currently conducting a phase two investigation of Ryanair's offer for Aer Lingus under the EU merger control rules.  The Commission's decision is due in early February 2013 and my Department continues to closely monitor the case.  Irrespective of the outcome of that investigation, the Government has decided it is not in principle prepared to sell its shareholding in circumstances which could significantly impact on competition and connectivity in the Irish market. The Deputy is well aware of the Government's decision in the past few days not to sell this shareholding to Ryanair.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I am aware of the Government's position in the last number of days. Nevertheless, I am somewhat troubled that it took six months to come to the conclusion that it would be the wrong decision for the State to dispose of its shareholding in Aer Lingus to Ryanair. I am concerned that this came on the back of an announcement or rather what appears to be leaked information provided to the Commission by Ryanair. This indicated how the airline could get around the anti-competitive nature of an amalgamation of the two airlines and outlined a notion of selling the Heathrow slots to British Airways. Quite correctly, that struck fear into the minds in the Government and forced action on the issue. I am disappointed that it took so long for the Government to recognise the very real challenge that the amalgamation of the two airlines would pose to competition, air fare competitiveness and both business and tourism interests.

Is the Government confident this move will stop Ryanair acquiring Aer Lingus and has the Government had any indication from the European Commission about the likely outcomes? Will the Government stance carry much weight with the Commission? What is the reason for the delay in the decision? I do not understand why it took so long, and it gave some level of confidence to Ryanair that the Government was at least considering the matter. That was unhelpful.

I am somewhat troubled by the notion that the Government is still pursuing through NewERA the disposal of the shareholding. This is not about partisan politics. Ryanair is a very effective company, and although a trade sale to Etihad Airways or British Airways may seem helpful, it is certainly not beyond the capabilities of Ryanair to acquire the shareholding at a later stage. One could not be confident in just doing a trade sale to Etihad Airways or another international player as that will not ring-fence the very important competition which exists between Aer Lingus and Ryanair. I do not believe that will put the Heathrow slots beyond the attraction of other airlines.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I am glad the Deputy welcomes the Government's decision, which was correct. In one sense the Government very much needed to consider the case and make the decision and there was no delay in making the announcement. No information is available on how the Commission will act and I would not have expected the Deputy to believe such information is available. We know there is a defined time for the decision and the Government has taken much cognisance of it.

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