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Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018: Second Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 976 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan Zoom on Brendan Ryan] If the CEO of the ESB was vested with direct responsibility for managing the national grid independent of the board of the ESB while continuing to perform the functions of CEO, anyone would think that grid management was functionally separate from the ESB. While the CEO of Fingal County Council will be independent of the elected members of the council under the Bill, he or she is not independent of the local authority itself, which is, in law, a separate concept. As such, he or she will remain as CEO of a body whose principal statutory function under section 63 of the Local Government Act 2001 is to provide a forum for the democratic representation of the local community and to provide civic leadership for that community. While providing a forum for democratic representation is primarily the responsibility of the elected members, it is the statutory duty of the CEO to advise and assist the elected members generally as regards the performance of their functions under section 132 (3) of the aforementioned Act.

The relationship between Fingal County Council and the DAA is very strong and close and needs to be thus. The airport is a key economic driver of the country and a vital source of employment for people all over Fingal. The rates are just one testament to the intertwined relationship of the DAA and council. The financial success of the DAA has a direct correlation with revenue generation for Fingal County Council. Coupled with this is the fact that the DAA is the largest ratepayer in Fingal County Council, with the authority accounting for 22% of the rateable income of the local authority. The existence of this financial relationship does not in and of itself indicate any party acting in a conflicted manner but it raises valid questions about the potential for a conflict of interest.

This Bill has to be read in the context of the building of the second runway at Dublin Airport. We are told that the delivery of the north runway will enable a 30% increase in connectivity which will support an additional 31,200 jobs and a further €2.2 billion of economic activity. This Bill, if passed, will pave the way for the second runway and for the DAA to apply to change the planning conditions which limit night-time flights on the new runway and across the entire airport. In recent years, the DAA has been making strong arguments through consecutive CEOs that the planning conditions need to be set aside to make the new runway economically viable. However, this argument can be disputed because there is a difference between viability and maximising profitability, which is the real concern of the DAA. The runway will be viable and profitable under the existing planning conditions but these conditions will restrict the DAA from wringing every last drop of revenue out of the runway. Allowing it to do so through night-time flights would be to the detriment of local residents in Fingal affected by flight noise, many of whom are in the Public Gallery this evening.

A balanced approach, as provided for in the EU's noise regulation - Regulation No. 598/2014 - must be applied but the constant references by the DAA to economic viability, which should be read as profitability, highlight what is really behind this project and provide context to this Bill. The economic relationship between the DAA and Fingal County Council leaves the council open to charges of a potential conflict of interest. Therefore, the Minister must choose a different body to be the competent authority.

The need for functional separation required by Regulation No. 598/2014 is not being met, as I outlined previously in the context of the ESB example. Fingal residents are also concerned about the council acting as both a decision maker for any planning applications regarding construction work and as an independent noise regulator. Dublin Airport will be forever building, expanding and growing and there have also been discussions in the Department on the building of a third terminal. In these instances, Fingal County Council would be both the independent noise regulator and the planning authority. The council should not hold both positions simultaneously. Surely the Minister can see this.

Another concern of citizens relates to the general aviation expertise of Fingal County Council. Is specific expertise currently at the disposal of Fingal County Council? If not, the council will have to hire in this expertise. Will its wage structure allow this? These are very real questions. This cannot be another responsibility added to an existing department or one given to an individual who already has other responsibilities. This is a highly specialised skill and, as such, needs the expertise of bodies such as the Commission for Aviation Regulation, CAR. In 2016, a ministerial press release claimed that the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, was the best option to be the competent authority since it oversees aviation safety and air traffic control. Since then, the Minister has announced that he intends to split the IAA such that the CAR, which currently protects airport consumers and sets the level of airport charges, adopts the safety oversight feature of the IAA. Post-split, the IAA would only provide the for-profit, commercial air traffic control service while the CAR would be the independent regulatory body. Thus, the Commission for Aviation Regulation is a good option as it would fit the requirements of Regulation No. 598/2014, particularly in the post-reorganisation scenario outlined. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is another option that would also be acceptable to the Labour Party.

There is no mention in the Bill of the importance of health, as referred to by other Deputies. This must be recognised as health is clearly referenced in Regulation No. 598/2014. I will not read the reference now but this must be included in the Bill. The regulation calls for an improvement in the quality of life of neighbouring citizens of airports, particularly where night flights are concerned. This is also not included in the Bill. What is the basis of the Minister's approach here? The suspicion of affected residents is that he is pursuing the bottom line and not taking a balanced approach to include the well-being of residents who live beside the airport and under flight paths. In fact, reference is made to animal habitats but there is no mention of the health of local residents. This is not a balanced approach.

If this Bill is enacted as proposed, there is a real risk of it being challenged before the European Court of Justice on the grounds that the current proposals do not achieve true functional separation as between the competent authority, namely, the CEO of the local authority, and the local residents via elected members on the council, which the competent authority will continue to serve, as CEO.

It is clear the Minister wishes to rush this Bill through the Houses. While the legislation has been delayed continuously, it still has an air of being rushed and hurried. This causes those of us on this side of the House to have concerns and suspicions. We are not happy with the Bill as drafted. We want the economy to grow and flourish. I want to see more jobs created at the airport. I also want to see more good jobs that are long term and will support families and local communities. Nobody wants to stand in the way of progress, including the local residents. As the Minister knows well, many of the residents objecting to the Bill have relatives or friends who work in the airport or work there themselves.

Nobody wants to see this done in the way the Minister is proposing. It will only lead to problems further down the line. It is fair to say that the relationship between the DAA and local people is not as good as it could be and faith in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is not as good as it should be. This Bill, with Fingal County Council as the designated noise monitor, does nothing to meet the concerns of local residents. To be honest, it looks like the closer alignment of two powerful local forces, both of which can be forces for great work and delivery in Fingal. However, based on what I have already outlined and on what others have said and will say later, there should not be another bridge in their relationship carried through with this Bill because there is no need.

I ask the Minister to listen and to change this Bill. I urge him to introduce amendments on Committee Stage to replace Fingal County Council as the competent authority. He could choose the CAR or the EPA as the alternative. He should not leave it to those of us on this side of the House to choose an alternative for him by way of amendment.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I am sorry to interrupt but the Deputy's time is up. We must move on to the next business.

Debate adjourned.

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