Tuesday, 16 October 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be No. 24, motion re referral to Joint Committee of Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income and Capital Gains) (Kingdom of Norway) Order, 2001, and Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income and Capital Gains) (Republic of India) Order, 2001; No. 1, Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000, amendment from the Seanad; and No. 52, Industrial Designs Bill, 2000, Order for Report and Report and Final Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 24 shall be decided without debate. Private Members' Business shall be No. 117, motion re co-ordination of services to western counties.
Mr. Noonan: No. The health services are a farce. In a short time expectant mothers in Dublin will no longer be able to have their babies in maternity hospitals in Dublin. With all the talk of strategies, the Government, in its fifth year in office, should send the Minister for Health and Children to the House to explain this latest disaster. I do not agree to the Order of Business as this is an absolute travesty.
Mr. Sargent: As highlighted already, we must deal with urgent concerns, with the greatest respect to every item that is on the Order of Business today. The aviation industry needs attention, particularly in relation to airports and Aer Lingus. The Dáil divided: Tá, 63; Níl, 53.
Mr. Noonan: The Council of Transport Ministers meeting in Brussels, at which the Minister for Public Enterprise is in attendance, is due to conclude around now. Will the Taoiseach indicate what progress, if any, the Minister has made at the meeting and will he further indicate whether the purpose of his meeting in Brussels tomorrow with the European Commission is to raise the issue of Aer Lingus? Will the Taoiseach state pre cisely what is Government policy in regard to providing equity or loan guarantees to Aer Lingus?
Mr. Quinn: As the crisis in the airline industry is a critical issue for a number of EU countries whose national airlines are in a similar position to Aer Lingus, will the Taoiseach indicate whether it is his intention to formally raise this matter at the informal heads of government summit in Ghent on Friday and Saturday? If so, has he made preparatory contact with the governments of other similarly affected countries with a view to building some kind of alliance which would ensure we could find a political solution to this political problem which arose as a result of the events of 11 September? The American Administration was prepared to change its rules in regard to the provision of financial support to troubled airlines.
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Public Enterprise received the survival plan from Aer Lingus yesterday morning before departing for Luxembourg. The Minister is today attending a meeting of the Council of Transport Ministers and, prior to its commencement, met Commissioner de Palacio to discuss the Irish situation and outline reasons for the Government to assist Aer Lingus. The Government's policy is to ensure Aer Lingus survives and to save as many jobs as possible – somewhere in the region of 4,000. We want to ensure the contents of the survival plan are agreed between Aer Lingus management and staff. Discussions in that regard commenced in recent weeks and the Government will support them in whatever way it can. I had not received a report from the Minister for Public Enterprise prior to the commencement of
experiencing serious difficulties in this area and their ministers have spelt out their predicaments in Europe, as the Minister for Public Enterprise has done. I await with interest the outcome of the meeting.
The Commission meeting scheduled for tomorrow is not to discuss the crisis in the airline industry. A practice has arisen whereby various prime ministers attend full Commission meetings on a monthly rota to discuss a range of issues that affect their countries. While the airline crisis is bound to arise, it is not the reason for the meeting. The meeting was arranged four or five months ago. I will take an opportunity tomorrow to highlight our difficulties.
As regards the meeting at the weekend, I have no doubt these issues will arise, but I will wait to see what happens at the Transport Council and what happens tomorrow before I do whatever we have to do. Five countries have been in touch and the Transport Ministers have had a number of meetings. The Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, met her French and Belgian colleagues prior to today's meeting and she has also been in touch with her Greek and Austrian colleagues.
Mr. Noonan: Is the Taoiseach aware that at 4.30 p.m. this afternoon the European Transport Commissioner repeated that only limited state aid would be available or permitted in the wake of last month's attacks on the US? She also said that only compensation for flights cancelled for four days following the bombings in New York would be permitted by way of aid. In light of that, will the Taoiseach answer what I asked him, namely, what is the Government's policy now on State aid for Aer Lingus? Will he raise this issue as a priority with the full Commission at the meeting tomorrow in Brussels? Will he also raise this issue at the meeting in Ghent on Friday? Will he try to establish an alliance with the Governments of France, Italy and Portugal, all of whom have requested the Commission to relax the rules of state aid for aviation companies in trouble in Europe?
The Taoiseach: I will support what the Minister has already said. The Deputy can also add Greece and Austria to the three countries he mentioned. That position has already been outlined. I do not know what the Commissioner said at 4.30 p.m., but she has been consistent about state aid. I do not know what happened to the aid item today in relation to Belgium, her own country.
The Taoiseach: The president of the Council put forward an aid item today for her own country to seek assistance for the Belgian airline. The president of the Council was present at today's meeting. We will see what happens on that issue.
Mr. Quinn: I am sure all Members would agree the European Union has been particularly successful in dealing with issues related to the environment and environmental protection because the problem of environmental pollution does not recognise national frontiers. Having regard to the outrageous decision of the British Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, to commission the Magnox MOX plant in Sellafield and the serious  threat it poses to us in light of the vulnerability of these installations following 11 September, will the Taoiseach outline what action the Government will take through the courts in Britain, the European institutions and the international courts to ensure this massive target on our doorstep, which is closer to 50% of the population of this country than to a small section of the population in the United Kingdom, does not go ahead?
Mr. Noonan: Will the Taoiseach raise with the British Government the possibility of implementing a no-fly zone in the vicinity of Sellafield? The assurances given to date that a terrorist attack on this new plant would not be successful and would not cause enormous problems both for populations in the vicinity and along the east coast of Ireland are not convincing. Will the Taoiseach raise the issue of a no-fly zone in the vicinity of the Sellafield plant if we are to take seriously the threats of terrorism visiting the United Kingdom as well as the United States?
The Taoiseach: As regards Deputy Quinn's questions, three specific areas are being examined. We are proceeding with the arrangements on the OSPAR agreement, which is an arbitration process. Last Friday week a substantial agreement on the third party and various processes which must be followed under the OSPAR regulations was reached and signed off. That will continue. It is the view that it is useful, but perhaps it is not enough. Both those areas have been examined under EU and international law, which is tied into United Nations law. We are fast approaching the view that we may have to use all three of them to make a significant impact. Most of the work on the OSPAR Convention has been completed and most of the preparations are under way. It is a long drawn out process. For that reason, we looked at the EU aspects some time ago and we are now looking at the international laws which are tied into the UN laws. We will make every diplomatic effort to focus the British Government's attention on the importance of this issue to us. It outlined last week and subsequently in other discussions the independence of the agency that controls Sellafield. I find it difficult to understand how it is as independent as was stated, although I do not wish to state that the British Government is not giving me the factual position. I am examining the matter further. It seems a peculiar arrangement under its law. I will just use the word “peculiar” at this stage.
Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach accept the previous Administration was active in ensuring the proposal for underground storage facilities, which were subject to a planning inquiry, were defeated largely because of the direct and physical intervention at that oral hearing in the United Kingdom of Deputy Stagg when he was Minister of State? Does the Taoiseach agree the Minister for the Environment at that time, Deputy Howlin, established an interdepartmental and agency committee to mobilise all the expertise and relevant bodies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney's General office, to pursue that matter? To the best of my knowledge, that group was stood down by the current Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Having regard to the changed circumstances where, because of a previous investment of £500 million, Secretary of State Beckett is saying it is justifiable for the British to proceed and to the fact this is an enormous target which affects this country more than the United Kingdom, can the Taoiseach do a little better than the OSPAR Convention? Can he try a little harder and use something other than the existing diplomatic channels to which he referred, such as invoking the friendship between himself and the British Prime Minister, to which he frequently refers, and the excellent relationship they have in terms of Northern Ireland to do something real about this?
Mr. Quinn: It is Government to Government, as the Minister knows. If it is a question of recouping a £500 million investment to justify this decision, surely there must be another way within the European Union to address that issue. Can the Taoiseach give an undertaking to the House that, if necessary, the Irish State will take a leaf out of the book of a previous Administration and seek legal redress in Britain, including an injunction, to prevent the British authorities from proceeding with this matter?
The Taoiseach: Many of the things Deputy Quinn said are being followed up. I have already said that on 5 October a delegation of officials from the Department of Public Enterprise, the Office of the Attorney General and the Chief State Solicitor met their UK counterparts in London to discuss the status of the legal action under OSPAR, which has been followed through. We had to try to build up a coalition of countries which would support that. That was painstakingly done by the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, with a certain amount of success, but it must be followed  through. The objectives of the meeting were to agree the procedures leading to the establishment of the arbitration tribunal and that has moved on. I have also stated that taking an action within the United Kingdom is being looked at, although it was not discussed at that meeting, along with examining how we can use international law. We know the difficulty concerning this issue, everybody does.
The Taoiseach: The Attorney General, the Chief State Solicitor and those who have advised them on this case – looking both at UK and international law – are all working together to see how best we can stop this situation. We spent ten years or probably more—
The Taoiseach: —working on legal cases to achieve a certain amount, but the case about the resources has not been made. The economic case concerning investment does not stand up and they did not use it. Part of the reason we are using the OSPAR Convention is because they said they had this enormous amount of money for investment and are going ahead regardless. The OSPAR Convention is meant to be based on an economic assessment which was not done by the British Government. We have made this point repeatedly to it and will continue to do so.
Mrs. Owen: It would be easy to lose confidence in the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, who is in Luxembourg today. On 4 October she said that the Aer Lingus Bill would be withdrawn. Last week the Taoiseach said it would be withdrawn, yet here it is.
Mrs. Owen: On a point of order, why is the Aer Lingus Bill still on today's Order Paper, when not only the Minister, but also the Taoiseach told us it would be withdrawn? If that is the Government's  level of competency, I really fear for the future of Aer Lingus.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not a fair point of order. The Deputy has asked a question about a Bill and I will allow the Taoiseach to answer it. The Deputy does not have to make a statement on it.
Mr. Sargent: I do. I understand the Civil Defence Bill has almost been drafted, but is it to be amended? We should know about the date of publication in the light of the new paradigm of international security whereby attacks are more likely to be made through the post or by using an aircraft to attack Sellafield.
Mr. R. Bruton: Earlier this year the Government proposed a strategy paper on Dublin transport and promised to publish a Bill in July for a Dublin transport authority. We read in the Order of Business, however, that the Dublin Transport Authority Bill is not expected until 2002.
Mr. R. Bruton: This Bill was supposed to be a key part of the Government's strategy to tackle Dublin traffic, which we understood was a priority. Why has it been postponed for at least 12 months given that it is only a few weeks since those documents were published?
Mr. Gilmore: The Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill has been promised to provide some degree of protection for tenants in the private rented sector. Will it be published in the lifetime of the Government?
Mr. B. Hayes: Over the weekend the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government expressed a wish to introduce a new law to stamp out the practice of voter impersonation. Given the knowledge of the Fianna Fáil Party on this particular issue—
Mr. M. Higgins: I note that just over 80% of the Government's legislative programme is due to be printed in 2002. Will it be possible to pub lish all the legislation in one month or will it be done over an extended period? I am interested in the National Parks and Historic Properties Bill which I presume will take account of the Supreme Court case in relation to the Blasket Islands, upon which we were promised legislation about three and a half years ago.
The Taoiseach: The Bill is due next year. For the Deputy's information, however, work on the Bill was deferred because of the ratification of the convention on international trade, the convention on endangered species and other issues related to the commencement of the Wildlife Act. That is what delayed the legislation.
Mr. Howlin: Is the Carrier's Liability Bill still expected to be published this session? Will there be separate legislation in relation to the bilateral agreement on the free movement of peoples between Ireland and Switzerland, or will it be incorporated in the Carrier's Liability Bill?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): In view of the seriousness of the situation will No. 110 be replaced with a Bill which would clear the political hacks out of Aer Lingus and put a competent board in place—
Mr. Healy: In view of the regular disturbances on our streets and housing estates and particularly in view of the Garda Representative Association's view that not enough gardaí are on the beat when will the Garda Síochána Bill be published? Will it provide for community gardaí on our streets?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): In the context of the Electricity Bill, will the Taoiseach guarantee that any electricity emanating from the North-South interconnector and the one from Britain will not be nuclear sourced? As we have already discussed the MOX plant here, we should not have a nuclear policy by the back door.
Mr. Coveney: I have been trying to establish for some time when we will see the Residential Institutions (Redress) Bill, 2001. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the legislation will come before the House prior to Christmas?
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