Dáil Éireann - Volume 582 - 24 March, 2004
Air Navigation and Transport (International Conventions) Bill 2004 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
An Ceann Comhairle An Ceann Comhairle
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Crowe was in possession. There are 12 minutes remaining. I understand he is sharing time with Deputy Connolly.
Mr. Crowe Mr. Crowe
Mr. Crowe: I had put a number of questions to the Minister and had indicated support for the broad parameters of the Bill. I asked the Minister to clarify whether military and non-commercial state flights by foreign governments in Irish airspace come under the scope of this legislation. What implications will the convention have for Irish passengers who might be involved in a collision with such flights or who might be killed or injured while on the ground in the event of such a crash? While the Government might not have plans to bring in such an exemption, it has the power to do so at any stage without debate. Will the Minister consider amending the legislation to give power to the Dáil to approve such an exemption, which would at least allow a real debate to take place on the merits of such proposals?
While Sinn Féin will support this legislation, we have a number of questions we would like clarified. These include the reasons for the delay of a number of years in bringing this legislation before the House, whether consultation took place with the accession states regarding the  extension of this convention to their countries without allowing them a debate on the subject, the reason for the limitation on the scale of damages for mental distress and the implications of this convention for military and non-commercial State flights.
Mr. Connolly Mr. Connolly
Mr. Connolly: I am happy to welcome the Bill which will facilitate the ratification by Ireland of the 1999 Montreal convention, which became European law on 5 April 2001. This convention updates the 1929 Warsaw convention and establishes a comprehensive and up-to-date set of rules defining and governing the liability of air carriers in regard to passengers, baggage and cargo.
The Montreal convention was held to harmonise the mishmash of supplementary amendments and inter-carrier agreements that made up the Warsaw convention system of liability. Its principal objective is to provide a greater level of financial protection for air passengers and their baggage and for the consignors of cargo.
The vision of former Taoiseach Seán Lemass in 1936 of Ireland and its major airports as a strategic transatlantic hub on the fringe of Europe has been amply borne out. The development of air transport in recent years has been nothing short of phenomenal, with several low cost carriers contributing handsomely to that. Who but a visionary could have foreseen that an Irish low-cost carrier which started with a few turboprop aircraft in the mid-1980s, together with a number of Romanian pilots, would be carrying in excess of 6 million passengers a year by 2005?
The growth of Aer Arann also, not merely as a domestic regional carrier but in opening international routes, has truly spiced up the aviation pot. It flies more passengers on 400 flights to 16 destinations in a week than it did in the entire of 1999, its second year of operation, and looks set to break the 1 million barrier very soon.
The national carrier, Aer Lingus, has remodelled itself as a low-cost carrier and has returned to a state of profitability. It has had to contend with a significant downturn in tourism in the travel industry after 11 September, a situation which was exacerbated by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and subsequently by SARS. Nevertheless, Aer Lingus returned to profitability in a most convincing fashion in the past few years. It is making a healthy profit, in excess of €76 million, and has opened over ten new routes. It has succeeded in turning around a potentially disastrous situation, and the new low-cost Aer Lingus is to be congratulated on its success. Indeed, all three carriers merit our congratulations on the manner in which they have weathered the storm in the airline industry.
This Bill proposes to harmonise the situation relating to insurance of the various airlines, particularly in the wake of the 11 September terrorist atrocities in New York. All air carriers  in the European Union have more than adequate levels of insurance cover, something that does not extend to many countries outside the EU. Many of the carriers outside the EU have inadequately low insurance cover under existing programmes or regulations. All carriers within and outside the EU will be bound by the terms of the Montreal convention once they fly into EU airports through the country’s airspace.
Insurance covering terrorist actions against airlines and passengers will also be mandatory under the terms of this Bill. One of the Bill’s main features is the inclusion of the concept of unlimited liability in the event of death or injury to passengers. Previously, the Warsaw convention limited liability to the equivalent of 8,300 special drawing rights, that is approximately €11,300.
The Montreal convention provides for a two-tier system of carrier liability. The first tier relates to the carrier’s strict liability accepted automatically up to 100,000 special drawing rights, which is approximately €160,000, and it is 12 times more than under the Warsaw convention unless the victim is at fault. The second tier is on the basis of the presumptive fault of the carrier and carries unlimited liability unless the carrier can establish that it was not negligent or that the injuries resulted from the actions of a third party. Compensation levels in regard to delays, over-booking, death and injury would dramatically increase. The levels of compensation and assistance to air passengers in the case of denied boarding, delays and cancellation will be considerably increased under this Bill.
Many millions of unclaimed bags and cases fill warehouses throughout the world each year and the largest single air traffic complaint in the United Kingdom is about mishandled baggage. In the United States 200 passengers report missing luggage every month, and throughout the world 0.5% of luggage is mislaid en route. That may not appear to be very much but it represents one bag in every flight. It is vitally important that it be ratified by the 1 May deadline in order that its provisions can extend harmoniously and automatically to the ten accession states which want to join the EU on that date.
Not to have the Montreal convention ratified in the form of this Bill would entail further delays for the new accession states and the continuation for them of the Warsaw convention’s terms. In excess of 60 countries have signed up to the Montreal convention, including the United States, although rather late in the day.
Arising from 11 September the United States has implemented intensive security restrictions and regulations at all airports. Anything remotely resembling a weapon, whether it be of plastic, rubber or cardboard, is eliminated in the security inspection prior to boarding. That is reassuring to passengers. Nevertheless, in-flight security still appears somewhat relaxed when one considers that wine and other drinks continue to be freely served in glass bottles. In the hands of fanatical terrorists, glass can take on the dimension of  lethal weaponry and could form the catalyst for extreme strikes against perceived targets.
It is somewhat strange to see, in section 5, the French language given priority over English in instances where disputes might arise between French and English texts. Until now, English would have been regarded as the universal language of aviation around the world and airlines generally proceed on that basis. Perhaps this provision is included because the convention emanated from Montreal. If so, it is a rather flimsy pretext for subjugating English in a major air transport convention.
The non-inclusion of mental disorders or mental injury in section 7 appears to be a major and grievous omission, particularly due to the deep trauma that accompanies aviation accidents. A recent court of appeal decision in the United States ruled that passengers could not hold carriers liable for mental injuries that were not caused by bodily injuries. Accordingly, passengers could only bring an action in respect of mental injuries only to the extent that they flow from bodily injuries. This restriction on recovery of damages for mental injuries takes no account of the mental state of those passengers who are permanently traumatised after airline accidents.
In the context of deep vein thrombosis, which affects passengers on long haul flights, I understand that the occurrence of passenger deaths from DVT does not fall within the accepted understanding of a fatal accident. If I were travelling on a long haul flight from Sydney or Wellington and I were reduced to a vegetative state, I know my dependants would want some recompense from the airline.
This Bill achieves a satisfactory balance between the needs and interests of all the partners in international civil aviation — states, passengers and air carriers. I welcome it with the few slight reservations I have outlined.
Mr. Naughten Mr. Naughten
Mr. Naughten: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Fine Gael, with the other parties in Opposition, will facilitate the Minister in ensuring that this legislation is adopted before 1 May to ensure all the accession states come under the terms of the new convention. This legislation and the convention revise the Warsaw system which, in 1929, set down international compensation procedures to deal with the carriage of passengers, cargo, baggage etc. and delays or damage to them. In particular, they revise the scale of compensation to more realistic levels and significantly improve the individual’s access to compensation. For example, for the first time, the passenger’s principal place of residence is included with the places of the business of the airline. A person resident in this country who is involved in an incident with British Airways can bring the claim here in a jurisdiction with which she or he is familiar and understands. It is to be hoped that this will make it easier for people to  obtain compensation should such an incident arise.
There is a significant body of compensation legislation and procedures within the European Union which apply to European and non-European carriers. For example, compensation for the death of a passenger has increased to €120,000 whereas some non-EU carriers hitherto paid only €25,000. Under the current conventions, once an airline has insurance, it is covered, but now there are specific limits. EU carriers must have cover of more than €1 billion to operate, and operators from outside the EU servicing EU countries may have significantly less cover. The legislation may remedy this discrepancy.
Deputy Pat Breen emphasised the importance for the European Union of adopting this convention in the context of negotiations between the United States and the European Union about the open skies proposal and accessibility to both continents. That has serious implications for Aer Lingus and Shannon Airport. I hope the Minister will update us on these negotiations because his Department is eager to have the legislation adopted.
While this legislation is a positive development, it provides a platform to raise the issues of air safety and security. At present, airport police are based at Aer Rianta airports in Dublin, Cork and Shannon but none at Knock International Airport or other regional airports. Under section 47 of the Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Act 1998, the Minister has the power to appoint airport police to other airports. They have security staff who do an exceptional job but, unlike the airport police at the State airports, cannot detain an individual until the Garda arrives. They can only request an individual to remain on the premises while they call the gardaí. In light of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001 and the recent bombing of the Madrid metro, we must become more security conscious. Will the Minister meet the authorities at the regional airports and the board of Knock Airport to ensure that those procedures are put in place and the regional airports are treated in the same way as State airports? I hope it will not be necessary for the Montreal convention to be implemented for any citizen in this State or in the European Union.
The air traffic control system is useless, as typified by the incident on 2 July 2002 when 71 people lost their lives in southern Germany in the collision between a Russian passenger jet and a DHL cargo plane. Three separate air traffic control authorities dealt with those two planes. Air traffic control must be co-ordinated under a centralised system throughout Europe. At present, there are 65 separate radar centres and 31 systems using 22 different computer networks. In North America, there are two air traffic control providers whereas in Ireland there are 57.  Had there been a centralised air traffic control system in the European Union and associated states in July 2002, that accident would not have happened and those lives would have been saved. It is critically important that the Minister act on this because there are significant safety benefits to be gained in operational techniques, advances in safety equipment, proper planning of routes and the opening up of additional air space, which is a significant problem throughout Europe.
The air traffic control maps for the European Union resemble a small jigsaw. Centralisation would also have a significant impact on the cost of transport throughout Europe because it would reduce the overall travelling time and open additional slots to provide extra capacity. The Minister is President of the Council of Transport Ministers and should take action on that. The ideal location for a European air traffic control centre would be Shannon Airport which has the most up-to-date equipment. The staff and expertise are in place and, together with one or two other centres in the Union, could provide the type of service we need now. Shannon Airport covers a large percentage of the air space in the European Union, albeit much of it over water. I urge the Minister to take a proactive approach to this proposal.
Articles 3 to 11 of the convention are specifically concerned with air freight and the cargo industry, and include issues such as modernisation and the use of electronic documentation. This is welcome and updates the previous Warsaw convention. Will the Minister, in his role as Chairman of the Council of Transport Ministers, examine the possibility of creating an opportunity which would allow us to develop central hubs within the European Union for the development of air freight? This is an area which will continue to develop and Ireland has the type of facilities required and should be used to develop a hub for the industry.
Shannon is the ideal location for this development which meets the requirements in the national spatial strategy to provide for more balanced regional development. Rather than look at the west of Ireland as a problem which needs to be solved, we should see this as an opportunity to use its underutilised assets. For example, Shannon Airport is currently underutilised with regard to capacity and Shannon estuary is one of the finest natural harbours in Europe. The Government should examine as a matter of urgency the feasibility of using these two assets to create a transportation hub linking the United States and Europe. On the matter of maritime trade, the European Commission has examined the possibility of diverting traffic from roads to the sea and to developing the motorway of the sea plan, which would ease pressure on the European road infrastructure. The Shannon estuary could form a hub which would link up with this new motorway of the sea and tie in with US trade routes.
 US exports to Ireland are worth €7.7 billion per annum thereby making us its 21st most important customer. Our exports to the United States are a staggering €16.8 billion per annum, ranking us as 14th largest exporter to it. Shannon Airport provides the opportunity for us to become a European hub for air freight as well as passengers, thereby relieving pressure on other major hubs such as Frankfurt and Heathrow. Major air freight companies could be attracted to Shannon by putting in place pre-customs clearance facilities for the United States and the European Union. Rather than push this as an Irish project, the Minister should push the creation of a transport hub in the west of the Union at European Union level during the term of the Irish Presidency. Will the Minister examine this issue? We have facilities in Shannon which are underutilised and the Minister should seek to maximise and develop these rather than allow the asset waste away.
Articles 29 to 35 of the convention were mentioned with regard to code-share arrangements. Will the Minister address the issue of what will happen in cases where no code-share arrangements exist? If, for example, I take a flight from Dublin to London-Heathrow and then fly with Qantas to Australia, can I take a claim in this country or must I take it in the United Kingdom? If this is something which cannot be addressed in this convention, will the Minister ensure that when negotiations take place again we will address the issue? We need to address the matter so that a person who cannot get direct flights from Dublin to particular parts of the world can take a claim from this country.
I wish to raise a number of issues which I hope the Minister will address on Committee Stage. The definition of a family member in section 7 appears to be extremely conservative. It uses the term “wife” rather than “partner” or any other dependant in such circumstances. Society has changed. The wording in section 7 does not provide for a person who happens to be a partner and not a spouse of an individual to take a claim for compensation.
Section 7 also provides that under the Montreal convention an individual who wishes to take a claim can take the claim in any one of five separate jurisdictions. What will stop an individual from shopping around between those jurisdictions to select the best place to take a compensation claim? This legislation sets down certain criteria regarding compensation but does not set an upper cap on it. For example, in the case of a French or German passenger on an Aer Lingus flight from Charles de Gaulle Airport, the passenger could decide to take a claim in Germany, France or Ireland. In such circumstances, from what we hear from the Tánaiste, most people would take a claim in this country because of our levels of compensation. What will preclude somebody from doing that?
Section 7(4)(l) relates to contract insurance. Does this include travel insurance if applicable?  With regard to section 7(4)(j) and (k), if a defendant decides to pay money into the court in respect of the action, the money can be paid as a single sum as damages for the dependants without apportioning blame to them. However, if this money is lodged with the courts, the courts do not have to set out how it should be shared out among the dependants. This could lead to a situation where there is no issue regarding the level of compensation but there is an issue regarding how the compensation is distributed among dependants. Under this legislation the court does not have to decide how the compensation is divided among the dependants. This could mean a family would have to continue to pursue a case through the courts to provide for this, especially in a case where the person who has died, been injured or ended up in a vegetative state, has not made a will.
In circumstances where no will has been made, it is important that the court specifies and divides the compensation. Will the Minister bring forward an amendment in this regard on Committee Stage to clarify the issue? We should not encourage people to go through the courts when the matter could be addressed through an amendment to this legislation.
There appears to be an anomaly regarding the interpretation of the convention, which may be different in the original French document. However, as we do not have a copy of the original, I cannot decipher it. Will the Minister examine the matter before Committee Stage. The issue has to do with Article 12, the rights of disposition of cargo. Article 12 provides that the individual or company that puts cargo on a plane has the right to withdraw it at the airport or at any airport where that plane lands.
I presume this is not the case and that they have the right to request that it be withdrawn at a particular airport. The convention specifies that if costs are involved the consignor would be liable.
Let us say, for example, that Brennan Transport puts cargo on an Aer Lingus flight in Dublin that is going to Melbourne in Australia. The cargo goes from Dublin to Heathrow on an Aer Lingus flight where it is transferred to a Qantas flight to Australia. There is nothing to stop Seamus Brennan, the director of the company, going to Heathrow and demanding the withdrawal of the freight from the plane. Although he does not have security clearance, under the terms of the convention as I understand it, he has the right to withdraw it in person from the plane, which would give rise to a security threat.
Will the Minister define “delay” in terms of Article 19 of the convention? No clear definition of delay is given. Does it relate to a day, a week or a month?
Mr. Perry Mr. Perry
Mr. Perry: I am delighted to speak on the Bill on which Deputy Naughten has carried out an in- depth study and of which he has considerable knowledge.
The Warsaw system provides a worldwide system of standards and rules for carriage by air and, in particular, common rules in respect of liability limits for the carriage of passengers, cargo and baggage in the event of damage, delay or loss. This has to be welcomed.
Where air travel takes place between Ireland and another state which has not yet ratified the Montreal convention, the Bill provides that the most recent convention common to the states concerned will apply. Ratification of the Montreal convention will extend the higher liability limits worldwide, thereby providing significant benefits for passengers travelling with non-EU airlines.
The convention also makes it easier for a passenger to bring legal action by allowing him or her to bring action in the state where he or she principally resides. This fifth jurisdiction is in addition to the previous four, which are: the place of business of the airline; the place of the accident; the point of origin; and the intended point of destination of the flight. This is an important addition, which I welcome.
Ratification of the Montreal convention before 1 May 2004 will ensure it will automatically extend to the ten accession countries when they become members on 1 May 2004. Otherwise, the process will be delayed until all ten accession countries are in a position to ratify.
The purpose of the Bill is to ratify the 1999 Montreal convention along with other European Union colleagues. The convention further develops co-operation in international aviation and, as such, is a welcome development. The Bill restates the existing law relating to the existing Warsaw convention and its amendments so that the entire subject is covered in one Bill. The ratification of the conventions is important. The Montreal convention is an updated replacement of the Warsaw Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air 1929, which is 75 years on the Statute Book.
The liability regime established under the Warsaw convention and its related instruments sets out passengers’ rights in the event of an accident. Among other benefits, the convention: holds carriers strictly liable for damages up to €100,000; removes the upper limit on damages for accident victims which exists in the Warsaw system; extends the range of jurisdictions in which claims for damages may be brought; clarifies the duties and obligations of carriers engaged in code-share operations; and provides for updated documentation regarding cargo. It is important that cargo is now included.
Crucially for passengers, the convention makes it easier for them to take legal action. This is significant given that many people find the legal system daunting and difficult to understand. The Montreal convention now allows legal action to  be taken in the state where the passenger lives if the carrier operates services to or from that state. That will, in almost all cases, allow passengers to take legal action in the courts from their own homeland. This will be much more convenient for most people seeking compensation from airlines. I welcome the fact that people will now be able to engage legal representatives in their own jurisdiction. The difficulty of taking a legal case abroad is compounded by the language barrier and the associated costs involved.
The enactment of the Montreal convention will extend the higher liability limits worldwide, giving significant advantages and benefits for passengers flying with airlines based outside the EU. This is a necessary provision, given that the aviation industry has expanded a great deal in recent decades and people are travelling more frequently. People are flying to every corner of the globe with airlines other than domestic carriers such as Aer Lingus or Ryanair.
The VHI has a new travel insurance premium, which is to be welcomed. There are benefits attached to an annual policy over taking out insurance for every flight. This new scheme will make clearer to people who travel frequently what is actually covered.
Most national carriers work in co-operation. In a time of multinational companies, it is difficult to know which company owns the smaller operators. Airlines in recent times have downsized in an attempt to cut costs. Most airlines now appear to take a budget airline approach to the business. The existence of monopolies is a concern. Many people buy lower priced tickets from airlines which provide less flexibility. It is costly to make a change if one wishes to do so. In some ways this is a form of racketeering. One can be charged up to five times the cost of the original ticket. Allowances should be made in certain circumstances.
The airline carrier will now be strictly liable for the first €118,000 of proven damages for each passenger. This is a large increase from the low liability level of €20,000 under the Warsaw system, which was obviously wholly inadequate. It is a positive development that carriers cannot avoid liability for this amount, which is relatively low, even if the carrier can prove that the harm was not caused by its negligence. Regrettably, many aviation accidents involve loss of life. This measure will give greater security to the travelling public. Even if an accident was caused by weather or a third party, such as a terrorist, the carrier is still liable for damages up to €118,000. Carriers will now be subject to unlimited liability if the plaintiff can demonstrate that the carrier was fully negligent. The carrier should be liable for security and terrorist attacks because it is its obligation. It has a contract with the passenger to ensure the highest level of security and, because of this, airlines must take responsibility. The increased level of security in airports throughout the world is to be welcomed as it is reassuring to those who travel by air.
 One key advantage of this legislation is that it will create greater uniformity in international aviation compensation. This must be welcomed as consumers deserve to be treated equally, regardless of the airline with which they choose to fly. The bottom line should be that, if the nature of the damages sought is relatively similar, the level of compensation from each airline should be relatively uniform. There are a small number of airlines in a competitive business. However, with millions of customers, it must also be a profitable business. There should be no disparity in the level of compensation and, as all incoming member states of the EU will have to agree to this Bill, it is important that it be ratified before 1 May 2004.
The previous obligation on aircraft operators from non-EU countries simply to have insurance has proved unsatisfactory and unfair to the travelling public. The fact that an amount of insurance is specified is a welcome step. This is an important point for our domestic motor insurance industry. The variance in compensation at the discretion of judges is unfair and perhaps explains why insurance premiums are so high. At least in this legislation there is a minimum level. As Aer Lingus and Ryanair already meet the proposed insurance requirements, there should not be any fare increases for passengers using their services and I would be very conscious that this would happen in practice. Airlines are driven by profitability nowadays and low fares are nothing but cute marketing ploys. The first ten seats are filled at €100 and gimmicks such as these are quite unfair. For people who must travel at a specified date in the future, it can be a good deal. However, those who must travel at short notice with any airline will be charged top dollar unless they can avail of a stand-by ticket. It is important that good value exist for flights on the day. Some can pay quadruple the rate for these flights.
The level of cutbacks on airlines is also a cause for concern. The passenger pays for everything on the flight, including lunch. The high level of service on airlines should not be diminished as it has an identification with Irish hospitality, yet passengers can now be charged for a glass of water. This demonstrates that airlines are only driven by the bottom line. If every business were to operate solely on that criterion, hotels and retail outlets would charge people to come in the door. As a tourist destination, we want to attract visitors to Ireland. The Minister of State should know that because he is from Donegal. When visitors arrive in Ireland by air, we want to ensure that they are not being ripped off by the airlines that are obsessed with making profits and charge them left, right and centre.
It is regrettable that the debate on building a second terminal at Dublin Airport is focused on bringing more tourists into Ireland. We already have Shannon Airport and Knock International Airport. Why can these airports not be used as low-fare bases for visitors to the west? It makes no sense that 20 million passengers arrive in  Dublin when half of those can be flown into the airports in Shannon and Knock. If so many tourists who fly into Dublin then head for Donegal and the west, how is it that there is no incentive for Ryanair to develop a hub in Knock or in Shannon? Tourists can then travel along the western seaboard instead of facing the chaos of Dublin. The Government should create an incentive for Ryanair to use Knock International Airport as its hub for Ireland.
Mr. Hayes Mr. Hayes
Mr. Hayes: That is a good plank for the European elections.
Dr. McDaid Dr. McDaid
Dr. McDaid: The Government is fighting the decision that was made by the Commission on Charleroi Airport because it disagrees with that decision. That is an area concerning State aid. We are all for low-cost flights into the west, but it is out of our hands.
Mr. Perry Mr. Perry
Mr. Perry: This is an issue with which the Minister has been dealing. A total of 14 million passengers come through Dublin Airport. They do not stay there but rather head on towards Cork, Killarney and Donegal. If we could fly five million people into Shannon or Knock, it could benefit the western seaboard. If those people wanted to come to Dublin, they could do so. It is wrong that every international carrier must land in Dublin. It annoys me when I hear the chief executive of Ryanair looking for extended facilities in Dublin Airport when there already is an international airport in Knock.
Dr. McDaid Dr. McDaid
Dr. McDaid: Current conventions state that no scheduled flights from the US can arrive in Knock International Airport or Cork Airport.
Mr. Perry Mr. Perry
Mr. Perry: It is an issue that the Minister should investigate as we are talking about value to the customer and growing the tourism industry in the west as well as taking the gridlock out of Dublin. It is wrong that all scheduled flights must enter Dublin and Shannon and I know that the Acting Chairman would support me on this point. It is encouraging that the Minister is aware of this. I will talk to the chief executive of Ryanair as I believe that he could also do something to land his planes somewhere other than Dublin. It should be possible to get a derogation on that. As the Minister for Transport is currently President of the Transport Council in the European Union, this is an ideal opportunity to fight for this issue.
The Bill also deals with aviation cargo and this is to be welcomed. This is timely given the growing importance of international trade for Ireland. We are all aware of the phenomenal growth which Ireland has experienced in this area over the past ten years. We are noted for our progressive information technology manufacturing sector which has become the largest in the world. Our status as a European headquarters for many of these new cutting-edge  technologies is another significant development. We need to remember our island status and the importance of this to the development of our export industry in whatever sector. This worldwide trade is heavily dependent on in-time delivery of goods, which is important. The sector is very dependent on the aviation industry to deliver goods on time to locations across the globe. The downside of this level of cargo aviation dependence is that if something goes wrong it is crucial there is a compensation structure in place which will ease the loss experienced by industry and the amount of compensation they receive. Given that this is an island nation and that goods must be exported by plane, our location in Europe and the level of investment from America to service Europe is equally important.
I heard yesterday there is the possibility of a new company setting up in Ennis. The initial assessment is for the creation of 50 jobs but there is potential for the creation of 250 jobs. This is a very successful company in the United States which is based in the technology sector. The capability to do business and to manufacture and deliver goods on time and within cost is very important. If something goes wrong there must be some means to deal with the matter quickly.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I hope the Minister of State will take on board the point I made in regard to Knock and Shannon airports in light of the Aer Rianta proposals. It is regrettable that Dublin Airport is choked up while there is a good network of regional airports. I hope the Minister of State will promote the west of Ireland in terms of how best to get more people into the region. I am sure he will refer to this issue in the coming weeks.
Mr. Killeen Mr. Killeen
Mr. Killeen: One could be forgiven for thinking that regulation has become something of a dirty word in aviation circles. Much of the pressure those of us who live in the Shannon region are acutely aware of is pressure to move towards open skies and to have as little regulation as possible in regard to aviation.
The purpose of the Air Navigation and Transport (International Conventions) Bill is to ratify the Montreal convention 1999. This is a very important convention which needs to be ratified within a particular timescale to ensure the process is not dragged out in respect of the new member states. I support the legislation and hope it will be passed by the Oireachtas in time to circumvent whatever difficulties might arise if it runs later than May.
There has been effective regulation heretofore in aviation circles in regard to safety. There have been some appalling glitches in the entire area. The Warsaw convention 1929 set out the original framework on aviation. Many of us may be surprised to find that international rules and standards in respect of aviation were set down in  convention format at such an early date. The convention was modified on many occasions, most notably by the Chicago convention in 1944, and subsequently by a number of other conventions. Ultimately it would have been referred to in aviation circles as the Warsaw system. Within that there would have been a very successful and fair system of regulation within the EU. Ireland introduced the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1936, which was the first Act in this area. It was amended and updated on many occasions. I welcome the fact that today’s Bill is a composite Bill which draws together the principal strands of previous legislation in this area. It will be a help to our successors in Parliament who will not be bedevilled by the difficulty which arises when one finds in almost every new section of an Act references to legislation dating back to the foundation of the State. Legislation which is brought together in this format is very helpful.
One of the most important regulations to affect aviation in Ireland is the Ireland-US bilateral agreement, or the whole series of agreements which have been in place for a long time. In the future this will no doubt be superseded by an arrangement between the EU and the United States. In the interim, it is important to point out that Shannon Airport and its region has been by far the most effective and positive counter-balance to Dublin. There are big changes afoot in the Shannon region. I welcome the fact that there is much closer co-operation between the business community and State agencies than was the case in the past. There is an acknowledgement by both parties that the other has an important role to play. The work of the Atlantic alliance and the Atlantic partnership will bear fruit in the short term and perhaps more strategically in the longer term.
Those of us who have kept in close touch with airport issues at Shannon welcome the fact that Pat Shanahan, who continues to play a central role in the area, is chairman of the new independent board. The Minister of State will not be surprised to hear me say that I would have been much more comfortable if there was an interim arrangement with sub-boards under a national Aer Rianta board. I must acknowledge that there is a significant level of public support and goodwill towards the independent board at Shannon. I have no doubt such support arises from a belief in the Shannon region that the area has promoted innovation. It continues to be an area which has the potential to innovate and go forward in a very strong and powerful way in the world of aviation and business. I support the circumstances which would allow that to happen. In that context, we must acknowledge that despite the huge international difficulties, particularly those arising from 11 September, and more recently from the Iraq war, the current management at Shannon Airport and the management under Aer Rianta corporate, managed in the very worst year to have very small losses, while in other years there was a level  of growth on transatlantic routes. This has been all the more admirable and all the more difficult to achieve in a situation where Aer Lingus has been extremely unhelpful. It has reduced the number of flights and the opportunity for Shannon to grow. Some of the newer players such as US Air have shown there is business to the west of Ireland which they can get. Many people in the Shannon region have long since lost faith in Aer Lingus as a State airline which should be delivering to the regions and supporting Government policy. This is something I regret but it is not surprising. I will return to the issue in the context of regulation and the Bill.
Currently the EU-US negotiations process is under way. The Minister initially indicated that he felt it would be a two to three year timescale and it appears that is how it will pan out. Unfortunately and predictably, there have been conflicting messages arising out of the various negotiations and talks. One must put that in the context of local and European elections. One cannot be surprised that the occasional scare story would arise and get legs. While this is understandable, ultimately it is unhelpful. There is a failure on the part of many people to acknowledge the level of success enjoyed in Shannon arising from the decision in 1993. There is widespread acknowledgement that if the full open skies proposal had gone ahead as intended, it would have been disastrous. The arrangement reached has turned out to be very good for Shannon.
In fairness, the new board faces a difficult task. It operates in a cyclical business where competition is more intense than in the past. There is no forgiveness, companies either make profits or go to the wall. It would be disastrous if the Government undermined the new board in its first three or four years of existence by reducing the level of transatlantic service and the standard of regulation that currently exists.
I commend the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy McDaid, for his work on negotiating the new bilateral agreement and his approaches to the US authorities about the special position of Shannon Airport. The people of the region must be assured that the Government is serious about protecting the position of the airport, not just because it is long established but because it is a hugely important counterbalance to Dublin, particularly in the context of the Government plans for decentralisation and the spatial strategy.
It is also in the interests of Dublin that counterbalances are established around the country because there is no doubt that the quality of life of Dublin citizens has deteriorated measurably in the 11 years that I have been attending the Oireachtas. Dubliners experience congestion while travelling short distances, increased pollution levels and other difficulties that arise from over-centralisation of business and population. It would be regrettable if the Government embarked on the difficult logistical  transfer of a substantial number of civil servants from Dublin to the regions while simultaneously walking away from an arrangement in an international convention which has no cost to the State and undermining the success of the Shannon region.
We are frequently accused of parochialism but such an outlook in our region has brought benefits far beyond what anyone might have imagined from a relatively modest regulation. Benefits for the regions are to Ireland’s advantage in the same way as benefits for Dublin. We must bear that in mind when major changes are being made to the national airports and the boards in Cork and Shannon are being posed a challenge. Our support for those changes must be underpinned by a continuation of the support and regulation that has existed until now or we will have two regional airports which are unable to prosper in the manner in which they ought and a direct cost will ultimately arise to the State in subventions for them. None of us wants that because it is not in the national interest.
There will be an extension of the fly free zone that exists in Europe to cover the United States within the next ten years and the Charleroi decision will have an impact on Irish and global aviation. Such decisions in the past have had a positive impact. The freedom of movement across Europe was one of the factors that enabled Ryanair and other low-cost carriers to develop. While Ryanair is now a major player in European aviation, it is not long since it was a fledgling airline that many experts thought would go nowhere. It came through some difficult patches and became an important player. People have shrugged off the Charleroi decision, saying it does not have implications for the State airports in Ireland and that it is under review but it has potential implications for the aviation sector, not least the State-owned airports.
With the change in Aer Rianta management and the negotiations with the United States, the Department of Transport has presented Aer Lingus as Shannon’s guarantor. It must be acknowledged that Aer Lingus and Shannon have been good for each other over the years but developments in the past few months have cast a shadow over the intentions of Aer Lingus regarding Shannon and its commitment to it. There is currently the saga of the cabin crew who are being transferred to Dublin and the threatened 104 job losses in baggage handling. The cabin crew decision is difficult to understand in any context, regulated or otherwise, even that of less regulation on the transatlantic routes. It does not make sense that an airline would transfer employees against their wishes while simultaneously flying staff from Dublin to crew planes from Shannon that could be crewed by the staff who are already there.
Such decisions make no sense in logistical or personnel terms and we should question the rationale for them and the bona fides of a management that would proceed with such a  scheme. If that is the best that can be offered as guarantor for the airport and the region, we should be worried. This guarantee creates a void that must be addressed in advance of any changes that might be made that will have an effect on Shannon.
The job losses in baggage handling are even stranger because Aer Lingus operates a highly profitable business in this sector in Shannon Airport. Baggage handling and aeroplane maintenance are of the highest standards because of the work of management and, more particularly, the employees. In recent times, when new airlines have come in or contracts have come up for renewal, Aer Lingus has pitched its bids at extraordinarily high levels, which effectively guaranteed it would not get the business. It is one thing for the company to make a strategic decision to concentrate on core activities and get out of activities which do not involve its own aircraft — even this has been placed in doubt by some spokespersons — but there is a right way and several wrong ways to do this. Aer Lingus management appears to have a particular skill in finding one of the wrong ways when the right way is relatively obvious.
A strong business has been developed which would have considerable potential in the hands of Aer Lingus or another company. It should have been dealt with in a much more forthright, above board and open manner and the approach taken reflects no credit on the management responsible for it. Ultimately, and unfairly in this instance, the blame finds its way back to the political level.
In the context of the proposed changes at Aer Rianta, we have found out that the independence of the commercial State-sponsored bodies is far more real, tangible and powerful than any of us had thought in the past. While this is sometimes good, on occasions such as this it would be nice if their political masters and the political system was at least in a position to call the people involved to account for decisions which clearly fly in the face of business logic and the best interests of the nation.
Once upon a time, I was sufficiently naive to raise these matters with Aer Lingus management but long before the current management was appointed, I found that this was a futile exercise and I now confine myself to exerting as much pressure as possible at political level. There is little advantage in banging one’s head against a brick wall in the longer term.
There is a belief in the Shannon region that having failed, as anticipated, to be awarded new routes into the United States, Aer Lingus management, at the highest levels, decided it was pay-back time and that the negative decisions on staffing and the company’s commitment to Shannon Airport arise from management’s disappointment at this failure.
Mr. Hayes Mr. Hayes
Mr. Hayes: I am pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words on the Air  Navigation and Transport (International Conventions) Bill 2004. Coming from a county which does not have an airport, my knowledge of air transport is limited. The sector has, however, generated significant debate and interest in recent years. The large number of angles involved in air transport makes it an interesting issue to study.
There has been a massive and welcome increase in the number of people travelling by air in the past 20 years. Older people who never travelled before are now taking holidays and young people are travelling for educational purposes, while many others travel across the world for sporting events, including large numbers of us who attend matches, race meetings and so forth in the United Kingdom. People are better off and have more income available to travel, which is a welcome development.
With this development, however, comes responsibility. Uppermost in everybody’s mind are the issues of safety and security. The events of 11 September 2001 in the United States brought home the volatility of air travel, the importance of security and the major task facing Governments and those who provide airport security.
The need to develop our national airports has never been greater. As one who does not live far from Shannon Airport, I am aware of its considerable potential, as outlined by Deputies Killeen and Perry. Last year, Aer Lingus’s profits increased by 30% to €83 million, which was ahead of the target of €75 million. I wonder about the company’s approach to Shannon Airport. Several times recently, I have heard people say the airport is finished and doomed. At a time when regional development, decentralisation and moving people from the east coast are being discussed, we need to develop and expand airports such as Shannon, the airport closest to me.
I fail to understand the reason so many people must travel to Dublin Airport, which is virtually impossible to access. People must travel for two or three hours to reach its car park and then wait a further two or three hours before boarding an aeroplane, yet a large proportion of the population lives within an hour’s drive of Shannon Airport. I have no doubt this is also the case as regards Knock Airport.
We have failed to develop the regional airports. Shannon Airport, in particular, has considerable potential for growth. At a function in my constituency several months ago, I heard the chief executive of Ryanair, Mr. Michael O’Leary, state that he needed business support in trying to develop Shannon Airport and the regions. I have no doubt that the support of the business community is forthcoming.
The proximity of an airport has created significant potential to expand business in counties such as Tipperary, Limerick, Clare and Offaly. We do a great deal of business with other EU member states and, with ten new countries  about to join the European Union, we need to ensure that businesses are located in close proximity to airports. We must, therefore, examine ways to develop regional airports and address the ongoing centralisation of services in Dublin Airport. Somebody, perhaps the board of Aer Lingus, must bite the bullet and develop Shannon Airport and other regional airports because we have failed to do so in a manner which delivers the full potential benefit to regions such as the mid-west.
Several other issues have been raised concerning Shannon Airport. For example, businesses need to have a link to an airport. The first question many companies, particularly in the United States, ask when making decisions on location is how far is the nearest airport. The Government and the agencies responsible for developing airports must keep this in mind, particularly as we are facing stiffer competition for jobs from other countries. We need to develop our airports to facilitate those who may wish to do business here. When I survey the mid-west region, I see considerable untapped resources for the tourism industry.
The agriculture industry is rapidly changing. It has suffered many job losses and a great number of farmers are leaving the land. To what will they have to turn? Many of them are considering engaging in tourism projects. They have tourism in mind as a way of providing a living for their families. We should seek to bring more people from the European mainland to this country for short breaks, whether to enjoy hill-walking, cycling or fishing in our rural areas, including those that surround Shannon Airport, Knock Airport and the smaller airports. That tourism potential exists in those areas. The infrastructure in terms of hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation is in place. More people are willing to participate in the tourism sector. It is important we make access to such amenities easy for visitors such that they can fly into our airports and be within an hour’s drive of the open countryside. Ireland has been marketed as a sunny place. We do not have sunshine but we have hill walks and some of the cleanest rivers despite the negative publicity of the past, and some great places for fishing. Such amenities provide a major potential for developing our tourism industry, but we need to be able to attract visitors to the country on short breaks. People in Europe want to travel; they want the fresh air and such outdoor amenities.
We have not developed our regional airports but I do not know who is to blame. We have not bitten the bullet in that regard. There is concern among workers in Shannon Airport and among people living in the surrounding area that the airport is gradually being closed. This should not be the case, rather it should be greatly expanded to develop the surrounding regions. Such expansion would have a major impact on the mid-west. I may have strayed slightly from the subject  of the Bill, but I felt I had to speak about the future development of Shannon Airport.
People must feel a sense of security when travelling. If baggage is lost, proper compensation must be available for such loss. It is important that such security and compensation is in place for the travelling public. I welcome much of what is in the Bill and there is a great deal in it. It is most important it is put through this House now that Ireland holds the EU Presidency. I look forward to the airways being safer and that people will feel secure about travelling, that they can travel and see much more and enjoy the world of which we are a part.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: I welcome the Bill as previous speakers seem to have. From a technical point of view, if 52 other countries have subscribed to the Montreal convention, there is every reason Ireland will want to do likewise. Many issues surround this legislation to which I wish to refer. I wish to return to the safety and insurance aspects of the Bill. I heard the Minister of State interject when one of my colleagues was speaking, which I like to see happen because at least we know he is interested in what is going on.
There has been much talk about scheduled flights from the United States. I am fully aware of the restrictions in place but I and many others have a problem in that regard and I would not be surprised if such anxiety is shared by the Minister of State. First, I am delighted we have a strong and profitable Aer Lingus. That is important. It literally came back from the dead — it was dead and buried. It was on the wrong track and its fares were far too costly. It was everything an airline should not be until it modernised and became more competitive. There is no more competitive aspect of industry than aviation. There are many reasons Aer Lingus had to become more competitive on which I do not have time to elaborate. However, they are all historical and do not make any difference, except to say that if ever we should be grateful to a competitor for bringing real co-operation, competition and business acumen into the system, we should be grateful to Ryanair. Let there be no question about that. Ryanair did what the private bus operators did for the bus transport service.
From a regional development point of view, I would be aware that is a tight hat, so to speak, in terms of Shannon Airport and Knock Airport. Many fears have been expressed, particularly in regard to Shannon, down through the years. Such fears abound at the moment. I will tell the Minister of State on what they are based. People in the area do not think there is somebody with a hatchet who knowingly wants to cut Shannon out of the scene.
Some 15 million or 16 million passengers come through Dublin Airport annually and that number will increase to 20 million shortly. That is why everybody is calling for an extension to Dublin Airport. As Deputy Hayes mentioned, due to competitive air fares, we can expect the  graph in that respect, which has been steadily rising over the past five years, to continue to rise. Many people who have not flown previously will fly and people who have flown will fly more often. Those involved in marketing tell me that is what is happening. If that is the case, Dublin Airport will grow at an phenomenal rate and I have no reason to believe it will not. Its growth will be phenomenal over the next four, five or ten years. It is not what will happen tomorrow that worries people in the regions, but the plans and strategies put in place now which will kick into gear in ten and 15 years. In respect of any spatial strategy, we do not like what is happening in terms of Shannon Airport or Knock Airport. If Members on this side were in Government, I do not know if much could be done about this, but this issue must be strongly debated.
If it transpires that Dublin Airport increases its capacity by 50%, which I believe it will, that will mean we will compound a problem we are not able currently to handle. I am speaking specifically in aviation terms. The Government launched the national spatial strategy with great brouhaha. It tried to reverse the increase in the volume of traffic, goods and services and of people who want to come to work on the east coast. Any spatial strategy must have a counter attraction to that trend. In aviation terms, the only two airports which can counteract that trend, to some degree, are Knock Airport and Shannon Airport. I will refer to the regional airports later but they are a different kettle of fish in this context. Some scheduled flights, particularly from the United States, into Shannon Airport and Knock Airport must be negotiated in whatever negotiations take place in the future. As has been pointed out ad nauseum here and throughout the country, if an aircraft flies into Dublin Airport, the chances of the vast majority of the passengers who travelled on it wishing to drive to Kerry, Cork or Galway are slim. Some will want to do so but the vast majority will want to come to the capital and surrounding areas such as Wicklow. If one wants commercial life here to be balanced, we have to give it an opportunity.
Deputy Killeen is closely involved with this, as is Deputy Pat Breen whose speech I read this morning. In the furore about aviation, there is not enough dialogue between the Government, the Minister and the aviation industry. They are all independent entities. Aer Lingus will do what it thinks is correct and Ryanair will do what it thinks is correct commercially and so on. That is the big bad world of economics and business. We do not have enough strategic thinking in respect of what will happen in ten or 20 years’ time.
We are in a new ball game now. A total of ten new accession countries will sign up on 1 May. That will bring its own volume of aviation. It will also mean that, unless there is some sort of negotiated settlement to this, the carriers from outside the jurisdiction will do what the Irish people did when they got the chance, namely,  congregate around a certain area such as Dublin. That is what the spatial strategy should address. If we are not in a position to redress that imbalance, we are in trouble.
In regard to the break up of Aer Rianta and the autonomy which the airports are getting, depending on whom one meets, one gets a different opinion. Some say there is an opportunity to grow the business in a better manner. However, in the overall context Shannon and Knock airports are relatively small structures when one sits in a boardroom in Boston, New York or Moscow and that is the problem with regional airports.
I sincerely hope the groundwork will be done for this. It has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Shannon Airport grew the mid west region. I have been in politics long enough to remember when SFADCO was set up by Dr. Brendan O’Regan and others. It was all tied up with the people who were coming and going through Shannon Airport. One could say that, together with the university, the regional airport in Galway is one of the many factors that helped to build Galway. Places throughout Ireland that are big enough to develop but have neither a third level education facility or access to an airport will find it hard to stand in the big bad world of commerce.
In the context of regional airports, I previously spoke on a Bill in the House and raised the issue on the Committee of Public Accounts recently that we need to be careful because, for obvious reasons, a huge subvention has to be given to seats on flights into regional airports. The airlines will not fly if they do not get this subvention because of the low volume of business. It is a miniature of what we are dealing with on the international scene in the case of Dublin versus Shannon. When one considers Galway, Sligo and so on, it is vitally important that the aviation link is kept at a reasonable cost to passengers so that it competes with other modes of transport but also to facilitate inward investment. Potential investors will ask how they can get to a certain area if they are to set up an industry there. In that context, a regional or local airport is vital. That is why the hub and the spatial strategy are so important to areas such as Galway, Sligo, Waterford and the rest of them.
If we want to ensure that the regional airport network works and continues to flourish, we need to make sure that, whatever we do, we do not create a situation in which the funding the Government has to invest is seen by Brussels to be in breach of competition rules. That danger exists. I was not satisfied with the Minister for Transport’s answer to me a couple of weeks ago when he stated that “it does not look like that at the moment” and that as far as he was concerned “who knows what will happen in nine or ten years’ time”. If for any reason we were deemed to be breaking the rules, we would have a more serious problem which we could not wear.
 More and more people want to fly. The question of insurance and baggage handling and so on is referred to in the Bill several times. I cannot understand why all airlines manage to lose so much baggage so often. Once it goes astray, one would nearly need Sherlock Holmes to find it. It could turn up in any part of the world and sometimes in an outrageous condition. I If am reading this Bill correctly — which I hope I am — I take it there will be much more direct access to insurance compensation for this type of thing. I assume that because there is more and easier redress to full compensation, the airlines will sit up and realise they have to do their job better. The only time in commercial life that one will get an organisation to sit up and take notice is when it costs it money. I assume that is what is meant in the Bill in this context.
When replying, the Minister of State might indicate why we can have such great cohesion in the EU on so many aspects of life — sometimes perhaps too great a cohesion — and yet we have separate independent entities for air traffic control. Why has the EU not been able to bring cohesion into this area? I know very little about aviation other than that every aeroplane must have a pilot. No matter where aeroplanes take off from, pilots all do the same thing. I do not understand why we cannot have the exact same rules and regulations applying in every country. There should be a common code that would be easily understood, irrespective of what language the traffic controller speaks.
No one seems to be able to answer that question and yet we are talking about coming together in the areas of justice, policing and so on. For whatever reason, if there happens to be an air traffic controllers’ strike in any one country, the whole place is disrupted. I would like an indication as to why that is allowed to happen. The events of 11 September 2001 have made us all more security conscious not only in Ireland but throughout the world. Air travel before and after that day are in two different worlds. Has this Bill or the Montreal convention a connection with the EU reaction to the American proposal to have flight marshals or civilian flights? Has the idea of flight marshals been allowed to drop?
Dr. McDaid Dr. McDaid
Dr. McDaid: Discussions are ongoing between the EU and the United States on that question. At the last Council of Ministers meeting it was also discussed. That matter is ongoing between the United States and Europe.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: Where does the Government stand on the issue? What is your role in it?
Dr. McDaid Dr. McDaid
Dr. McDaid: We have said that we would be reluctant to put sky marshals on a flight. We would rather cancel a flight. A definite decision has not been made but that is the general feeling.
Dr. Cowley Dr. Cowley
 Dr. Cowley: Deputy Connaughton, you should address your remarks to the Chair.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: I apologise, Chairman. I always find the Minister very forthcoming.
Mr. Murphy Mr. Murphy
Mr. Murphy: He is going for election. Why would he not do so?
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: He is forthcoming, whatever the reason. I cannot see how an air marshal could improve the security situation on a flight. If the worst came to the worst and trouble erupted high in the air, travelling at a huge speed and in a confined area, it is difficult to know what an air marshal could do. Whatever he or she could do should have been done on the ground before the passengers boarded the plane. My view is shared by many people who would not be happy to see an armed guard on a civilian aircraft. The presence of such a person on a flight might beget trouble.
The people of Shannon are very worried by the Aer Lingus proposal to call 29 flight attendants back to Dublin. Aer Lingus has always claimed it is trying to grow business in Shannon. Bringing the staff base from Shannon to Dublin sends out the wrong signal.
I congratulate Aer Lingus on getting back into profit. That is good for everyone. I hope the company will not forget its responsibility to the regions. If Aer Lingus is to be built up into a modern and enterprising company — I commend the chief executive for what he is doing — I hope this will not be done on the backs of the provinces and the regions.
Mr. Murphy Mr. Murphy
Mr. Murphy: It will be.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: This presents a huge problem for Aer Lingus. I hope the company does not have a closed, Dublin based, metropolitan mentality. If so, it will have made a fundamental mistake. There might be less profit to be made out of places like Knock and Shannon because spatial strategy does not come cheap. However, as the future of aviation here and throughout the world is being discussed, I hope there will always be people at a high level who will remember that we have a spatial strategy. We know what aviation has done for Shannon and Knock and those of us who are rural based will not allow the gates of those airports to be closed. The Government must remember the reaction to the Hanly report on the hospitals. We will not allow it to happen.
Mr. Boyle Mr. Boyle
Mr. Boyle: I wish to state some ongoing concerns about the Bill and the Montreal convention. The Bill is uncontentious and there is a general willingness in the House to ensure that the convention is adopted. There is, however, a sense of annoyance that the Government has, once again, presented the House with a Bill which ratifies an international  convention at the last minute. This is not an acceptable way of dealing with the business of the House.
I would like to hear the Minister of State’s clarification of my ongoing concerns which relate to my constituency, in particular. Ireland has a very good air safety record. However, there have been a number of air accidents, both in Irish territorial waters and involving Irish carriers, most of which affected the south of the country. I recall the aftermath of the appalling act of carnage which brought about the Air India incident. There is also unresolved business connected with the Tuskar Rock crash. The previous Minister for Public Enterprise engaged in a process which has not been resolved. The nature of this Bill allows the Minister of State to state the current Government position on further investigations of that accident and the further assistance the Government can offer the relatives of the victims of that crash, which occurred 36 years ago.
I also have concerns about the agenda which has brought us cheaper air fares but which has also brought about increased competitiveness and the entry of new airlines and airport authorities. The Montreal convention is important in this context. If more people are running airports and carrying passengers the risks are magnified and there is a need for international protocol to ensure passengers’ security. There is a fear that because more people are involved in the airport and airline business they will be driven by concern for the profit margin rather than public safety. There is an international and Government responsibility to see that these concerns are met. This is particularly true with regard to airport authorities. I hope the Minister of State will say something about Government policy on the break-up of the management of the three Aer Rianta airports in Cork, Dublin and Shannon.
The secondary aspect of the Montreal convention deals with compensation to the relatives of those killed in air accidents. While we have heard much about compensation for lost luggage, which is the inconvenience most often experienced by air travellers, the second aspect of the convention, which deals with compensation for deaths in air accidents, is the more important. This is one of the few opportunities the House will have to debate Government policy in these areas.
Despite Ireland’s air safety record, there is a need for Government action to bring about closure for the relatives of victims of the Tuskar Rock accident. The Government must also state its view on the effect the entry of new actors in the airport and airline business will have on the industry.
 Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.
Dáil Éireann 582 Air Navigation and Transport (International Conventions) Bill 2004 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).