Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 4 October 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Working Hours of Pilots and Pilot Welfare: Irish Air Line Pilots Association
Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and attendees in the public Gallery to please turn off their mobile telephones. We will now continue our engagement on the issue of working hours of pilots and implications for their welfare.
I welcome Captain Evan Cullen, president, Irish Air Line Pilots Association, IALPA. He is accompanied by Captain Ted Murphy, Captain Alan Brereton and Captain Neil Johnston.
The committee has been advised there are several ongoing defamation proceedings brought by a third party against IALPA and its representatives. In accordance with Standing Orders 59, debate on matters sub judice, and 61, privilege and utterances in the nature of being defamatory, I request that members and witnesses avoid, if at all possible, comment which might in effect prejudice the outcomes of such proceedings.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Captain Cullen to make his opening statement.
Mr. Evan Cullen:
IALPA was established in 1946 and now has approximately 1,200 members. It represents pilots who work in Aer Lingus, CityJet, CHC, which provides search and rescue for the Irish Coast Guard, and Ryanair. As a policy, we do not give a breakdown of our membership. It is fair to say, however, that membership is in proportion to the size of the companies on the island.
As will be seen from my presentation, I believe that recent events involving the serious disruption of airline passengers and arguments over entitlements to passenger compensation are, in a sense, merely the manifestation of significant underlying issues. These issues have not, until now, been in the public domain. However, I believe it is evident that these issues are not only a matter for the Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, but for all of us.
While I will not be presenting a comprehensive documented argument, I do hope to present enough information to suggest strongly that recent events have a long history, however remote from rosters it may at first appear. Moreover, I wish to assert that the underlying issues reflect the context within which they arose, namely, the Irish regulatory context. It is fair to claim that aspects of the Irish regulatory climate are unduly influenced by considerations that are, or have been, incompatible with established international and European practices. I will suggest where the nub of the problem is to be found. This can be summed up in a single word – compliance. I hope the committee will find my comments and observations of help.
I have provided committee members only with a tabulated book of correspondence and documents. I do not suggest that we go through every document, but I will refer to a number of them. The first document-----
We just want to get it right so that we are factually correct and fair to everyone. I want to ensure first that everybody has a copy and that the paper document we now have is exactly the same as what was circulated.
I am trying to get it right and to ensure that everything is transparent and open, and to make sure that nobody is being disadvantaged in any way, least of all the witness. The witness wishes to refer to pages in this document now.
Mr. Evan Cullen:
I would refer members to tab one, and page five on the top right hand corner. I want to draw the committee's attention to the second last paragraph which concerns a list of grievances or complaints that we had about the functioning of the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA. We got into a debate with the IAA about how it is using its reporting systems. I would like to read this into the record:
The audit may also miss the fact that pilots may not use reporting system in circumstances where they have lost faith in the confidentiality or impartiality of such systems. Low use of reporting systems might then be misinterpreted as an absence of issues to be reported, leading to potential suppression of issues of significant concern.
I also bring the committee's attention to page 26. This is a letter from the IAA to IALPA in response to our complaints. This is a phrase that is colloquially known among pilots as the "God clause". I want to read it into the record:"We do not report to the individual reporter on the outcome of investigations, but we may interview him or her to obtain further information." This is referring to a situation where the IAA believes it has an absolute right, when it receives confidential information or information of a safety nature, not to tell the reporter, the pilot or the engineer who provided the information if it is going to investigate the matter. Even more damaging from our point of view is that it does not have to tell the individual who reported if there is an outcome to the investigation and whether it has investigated. There is no feedback and no response. There is nothing. Information that is provided to the IAA goes into a black hole from which it never emerges, from our point of view.
I have a difficulty. Custom and practice here, and I have been a member here for 20 years, is that we get a full copy of what the witness is going to say. We do not have that advantage. I want to be factual and correct. We have requested that. I do not have it. I appreciate the witness bringing us through pages here, and I appreciate that they are non-consecutive. I want to be fair to the witness and the members. If he expects us to absorb all of that immediately, how do we query the veracity of what the witness is saying?
I am only trying to be fair. Let me be clear to the witness, because I want to get this right. The witness has made very serious charges about our regulator. This is the first I have seen of this documentation, so we need to get the regulator's response to it. The witness is saying that when complaints are made to it, it may not or does not respond and that it is a black hole. That does not tie up with safe regulation.
I am just not happy with this process at the moment. I do not know how other members feel. Safety is such a huge issue, and transparency about the points that the witness is making is very important. We are seeing them in the order that the witness is making them in now, and I am concerned about that.
I acknowledge that we have been given a large amount of information. I printed it off last night, but I have not been able to read it all. I have glanced at it. It would have been helpful had we received a submission and then had this to use as reference to the context. I do not know whether it is possible now or whether we can have time to absorb what is here. We are starting off with evidence, and I take it in good faith. It is a serious allegation and is in direct conflict with what we heard two hours ago. We are not expert enough to know who is right and who is wrong here. My experience in life is that no one is 100% right. The IAA and the commissioner were challenged about certain things that they said. It is very difficult to have absorbed this without a presentation. I am not sure whether the witness is available in a week or a few days, but there needs to be a better structure put on this.
The budget is next week, but I agree that we ought to have sight of everything the witness wishes to say in one document, on consecutive pages, and because it is such a serious and important matter he is bringing to our attention, the people mentioned in it ought to have a copy of it.
I raised that particular issue with the IAA an hour ago. I asked particularly about complaints and how they are dealt with. I cannot remember the initial response, but I then asked whether the IAA responds to the complaints. I was told that the IAA does not respond but rather reacts to the complaints. I said that react is different from respond and asked if the IAA respond to all complaints.
The witness said "yes", but clearly we are now hearing something completely different. It was said:
Sometimes issues raised in such reports are added to the list of matters we check during inspections and audits. We do not report to the individual reporter on the outcome of investigations, although we may interview him or her to obtain further information.
That contradicts the response given to this committee an hour ago.
It is all the more reason for us to have a copy of the documentation and reflect on it. I honestly believe the important point about Oireachtas committees is that we have to have everybody's confidence, including the public. I am not happy. I accept how serious the allegations are because, effectively, Mr. Cullen is saying the IAA is not doing its job on critical safety issues. That is what I heard him say.
I also have grave reservations. I accept that the delegates have gone to a lot of trouble to put together for us a very comprehensive document, but anyone who comes before the committee, even the Minister of the day, has a responsibility to present an opening statement outlining what will come up in the course of the meeting. It is regrettable that we did not have the pilots in prior to the IAA.
They are making substantial charges against an independent, reputable organisation that has received accreditation on an international basis. We do not have the capacity to allow it to answer charges made against it. I do not think that is fair or right. If I were in Mr. Cullen's position, I would have taken the opportunity to come before the committee in advance of the regulator because we would then have had the opportunity to raise those matters with it immediately. It must be acknowledged that the body that regulates safety has been accredited internationally and recognised and I do not think we should facilitate the making of what may be unfounded claims without giving the regulator the opportunity to be represented.
The issue is how should the committee proceed. It has been the practice for delegates invited to address the committee to present their remarks in written format. Members of the Irish Airline Pilots Association are here and have been waiting for nearly four hours for their turn to speak. I have never seen delegates wait so long. We will have the opportunity to receive a written version of the comments made because the session is being recorded. I request that a transcript of Mr. Cullen's comments be circulated, including to the previous delegates. However, we should proceed, seeing that we are here and the delegates have been waiting for four hours already.
As Chairman, I want to hear everybody's views, but personally I believe I cannot allow the meeting to proceed unless and until we receive a copy of what the delegates are going to say. I appreciate that we will have it soon and we will reconvene when we receive it. We could not have it any other way as the issues are so serious and of such importance that we need to do justice to what the delegates are saying and the people against whom the charges are being laid. That is what I honestly think and without judging anything.
At the previous meeting I proposed that we hear from the pilots first, but that was not possible. Deputy Mick Barry is correct that the delegates have been waiting for four hours. That implies a certain urgency in giving them a hearing, but it was important, given the detailed information the delegates would give to us, that we be able to put it to the supervisory regulator. It was a good structure and process, but we have not had sight of the information or a summary of the points the delegates want to make and have not had time to study them. To be honest, it would be chaotic to continue. I propose that we postpone the discussion until such time as we receive a summary in order to give everybody fair play and allow us time to look at the documents.
With all due respect, as somebody who is not a member of the committee but who is a member of other committees, it would be very wrong to send the delegates away without allowing them to make their presentation. It would not just be disrespectful it would also be unnecessary because if we have the documentation to which Mr. Cullen is referring, surely that should be enough. We often have to listen for ages to speeches from the Tánaiste or the Taoiseach and they do not present us with documentation. It is the same with members of the Opposition. As I do not present documentation every time I open my mouth, I do not see why we cannot listen to the delegates before us. We have the documentation. We may not have time to read it in advance, but that is not a mortal sin. It is possible to do it the other way around.
I know. You do not need to be so defensive as I am not referring to you at all. I am saying I felt the running order was incorrect, that it would have been better to have had the pilots in first and then the Irish Aviation Authority. Even if we proceed today, representatives of the IAA have gone; therefore, we cannot take the authority to task on the issues raised. If you are suggesting the pilots should come back, that would only be effective if the IAA was also invited back to respond. Otherwise the exercise would be futile. If the committee agrees, we should invite the Irish Airline Pilots Association back on the basis that it would proceed first and that the IAA would respond to the issues and questions raised.
I do not have a difficulty with that proposal. What is important is that the delegates before us are not just anybody, they are pilots and we are dealing with such a serious issue. Our record in this country on air safety is excellent. The IAA has a top-class record in the world rankings. I do not want any question-----
No; I actually raised this issue with the clerk and he can confirm that I was unhappy with the submission we had received. I asked him to contact the pilots association to give us a full and proper submission and he did, but the association did not give us that submission. That is the point. I would be much happier to do what has been proposed. I will make a decision as Chairman to adjourn the meeting on the premise that the pilots association will give us a copy of everything it has to state. We will circulate the submission to the Irish Aviation Authority. We will call a meeting as soon as possible.
Surely, there is a mechanism for somebody with a grievance or an issue with how the Irish Aviation Authority conducts its business; it is not a matter for the transport committee. Surely, there is a higher body to which the authority can be reported if people believe it has been negligent in carrying out any of its duties which could inspect how it conducts its work. It is not a matter for us.
Mr. Evan Cullen:
Something that is unique - it is a matter of fact as the IAA agrees - is that it is not subject to freedom of information legislation or the Ombudsman. It has a commercial mandate and can write its own statutory instruments. To have issues addressed by an organ of the State which has such wide-ranging powers and is able to deflect criticism is very difficult. I do not know of any other organisation in the State that has a commercial mandate that is not subject to the Ombudsman and freedom of information legislation and that can write its own statutory instruments. If there is such an organisation, it would be news to me.