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 Header Item Air Services Provision (Continued)
 Header Item Taxi Regulations
 Header Item Regional Airports

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] As I am sure the Deputy is aware, Ryanair has produced a package aimed at overcoming competition issues. It is solely a matter for the European Commission to make a decision on this issue within a specified timeframe. The Government will await the Commission's decision.

The Government made the correct decision in this matter for many of the reasons the Deputy outlined. I am glad the Opposition welcomed our decision. We will sell the State's share in Aer Lingus under our policy of disposing of State assets. This will be done at the opportune time and when it is of the greatest economic benefit to the country to do so. None of us can predict when that will be, however.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The disposal of State assets is an important component of the Government's NewERA agenda. While it may be prudent not to sell the State's share in Aer Lingus to Ryanair today, it is possible that Ryanair will acquire the State's shareholding by a circuitous route or through a third party within a short period of its being sold. The share in Aer Lingus is of much more strategic value than the Government has indicated. For this reason, I will strongly oppose any decision to sell the 24% stake in the company.

Taxi Regulations

 2. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he has met with the Department of Justice or An Garda Síochána to discuss the enforcement of taxi regulations and to aid in the crackdown on illegal drivers, cloned licences and other such offences.  [57239/12]

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I met with the Garda Commissioner as recently as last month on the matter of enforcement. To enforce the taxi regulations, including pursuit of the offences mentioned in the Deputy’s question, the role of the Garda Síochána is critical to support the work of the enforcement officers of the National Transport Authority, NTA, who have responsibility for nationwide enforcement in this regard.

Action 24 of the taxi regulation review report proposes strengthening the collaboration between the Garda and the NTA to secure effective on-street enforcement of taxi regulations and refocus the compliance activities of the NTA towards a greater level of off-street compliance and enforcement. In addition, it is recognised that the Garda will require and receive support from the NTA in targeting and co-ordinating aspects of enforcement activity. It will also require support from other agencies.

 There has been very good co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the NTA on enforcement issues this year and a substantial number of joint operations have been undertaken. The NTA is currently drafting an enforcement plan for 2013 which will be co-ordinated with the Garda Síochána's policing plan for 2013. This will assist with continued co-operation during 2013.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Aside from the significant oversupply in the taxi industry, a number of people are operating illegal taxis, whether by using bogus licences or driving vehicles without proper certification. Action 31 of the taxi regulation review report proposes that all taxis be fitted with branding. It will be necessary to include in any such signage quick response or QR codes and possibly a sign indicating the county of origin of the vehicle. While I am not in favour of the Border, vehicles are travelling across the Border to pick up fares. If the county of origin of a taxi was clearly marked on taxi signage, it would help identify taxis entering areas from outside. I am not sure what is the position on this issue and I ask the Minister of State for his views on it.

More inspections are needed and I welcome the increased role of the National Transport Authority and the Garda Síochána in this area. In addition, the space available for taxi ranks is not sufficient. Greater monitoring and enforcement of the regulations are required at the ranks.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I thank Deputy Ellis for his contribution. I note from previous contributions he has made and conversations I have had with him that he has a strong interest in the issue of taxis. The taxi Bill to be introduced in the Seanad early in the new year is the most comprehensive legislation on taxis in the history of the State. I hope everyone will support the Bill as it offers the only way forward for the taxi industry. It addresses every aspect of the taxi sector and empowers the National Transport Authority to implement and enforce taxi regulations.

I concur with many of the points Deputy Ellis makes. Enforcement is critical. Last year, 3,000 vehicles were inspected, a substantial number by any standards. However, further improvements can be made, which is the reason we are empowering the Garda to increase the number of inspections it carries out and impose on-the-spot fines. It will also be possible to suspend a taxi driver's licence where there is repeat offending.

I fully agree with the Deputy on the need to empower the National Transport Authority to use other monitoring tools at ranks, including CCTV. Serious issues, including criminality, arise at taxi ranks and must be addressed.

The Deputy makes a good point on door signage, which is crucial. It was the taxi regulation review group, rather than me, which decided that signage was necessary. Its recommendation was put to the taxi committee, which consists of taxi drivers, and it decided on the form the signage should take. We must examine the possibility of using roof signage to ensure drivers operate only in the areas in which they are licensed to operate. I am sick and tired of hearing stories of large numbers of taxis from outside the area arriving at major events such as the Galway Races or the Cork Jazz Festival to make a quick buck by taking the revenue of full-time local drivers. Action will be taken on this issue.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews I remind Deputies that when a Minister concludes a reply four minutes remain for supplementary questions and ministerial replies. For this reason, I will let Deputies know when they have three or two minutes left.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly It is coming up to Christmas and we are all feeling flaithiúlach.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews I will not feel flaithiúlach until my job is done.

Regional Airports

 3. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he has examined the competitive impact of the Shannon Airport support package on neighbouring airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock and on the region it serves; his national aviation priorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [57537/12]

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly In the first instance, there is not a support package in place for Shannon Airport. The Deputy will recall that the Minister for Finance announced in his recent budget speech that he will put in place measures to facilitate the construction of hangars and ancillary facilities that will be key to attracting additional aviation sector organisations. However, these are based on an appreciation of the contribution that aviation can make nationally. They are aimed at attracting investment to Ireland.  These measures will be available on a national basis to all airports that wish to avail of them, including Knock and Shannon airports.

The Deputy also refers to aviation priorities and, reflecting this Government's recognition of the importance of the sector, I can confirm that one of our priorities for 2013 is the development of a new civil aviation policy. This process was initiated at a conference earlier this month and will be pursued through 2013, leading to the adoption of a new policy in 2014. In that context, I expect the role of both State and regional airports to be fully explored.

The Deputy will be aware that the Government decided last month to proceed with the separation of Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority and merge it with a restructured Shannon Development to form a new integrated Shannon entity in public ownership. The order specifying 31 December 2012 as the date of separation of Shannon Airport from the DAA was executed last week following its approval by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Government also decided to rationalise the tourism and enterprise support activities in the region by transferring Shannon Development’s functions in these areas to the relevant national agencies.

The Government was faced with two ailing companies in Shannon that are not realising their potential to make a contribution to the economy of the wider region.  We are restructuring State-owned assets to make better use of them as a catalyst for the development of sectoral opportunities centred on the airport. I expect that these decisions will give rise to some degree of increased competition among Irish airports, including Knock airport. However, the aim is to increase the overall number of passengers to and from Ireland through increased efficiencies and the attraction of new aviation business that can have a beneficial national impact. 

It should be noted that Knock airport and the other regional airports which are not owned by the State have been supported over the years under the regional airports programme, which is aimed at ensuring balanced regional development.  Under that programme, Knock airport has received around €40 million since 1993. This includes funding for the public service obligation, PSO, air services, which, although paid directly to the airlines, also support the airport.  More than €1 million is being provided this year to the airport, despite the difficult economic circumstances.

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