Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 May 2005

10:30 am

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The country is somewhat weary of reports that the Government is close to a decision on the issue of a second terminal at Dublin Airport. There are further newspaper leaks today to the effect that this is imminent. When Senator Mary O'Rourke was Minister for Public Enterprise she recognised the need for more capacity back in 1999. The programme for Government promised a second terminal and the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, promised a decision in early 2003. For the past nine months, the current Minister, Deputy Cullen, has been saying the decision would be made shortly.

The Government has dithered about the issue for a very long time. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the Cabinet will make a decision today? Will he elaborate on the answer he gave yesterday in Warsaw when he said he wanted a longer and greater vision for the airport, not just for the road or second terminal but all developments that feed into Shannon, Cork and the regional airports? He overflew that particular runway when asked about his view on the second terminal. Will the Government make a decision today in respect of the issue?

Is the favoured site located on land owned by the Dublin Airport Authority? Is it true that Fingal County Council, in its county development plan, does not recommend the DAA site as suitable? Did the Skidmore Owens Merrill report, commissioned by the Dublin Airport Authority, not recommend against the site? If the Cabinet decides that the terminal should be built on the DAA site, either the cargo terminal or the former Team Aer Lingus building, now a high-tech facility, will have to be knocked down at a cost of €70 million.

Is the Government about to make a decision in a similar manner to that made with regard to the M50? In its longer vision of future need for the airport it is proposing a terminal that will be obsolete on the day it is opened.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Government will discuss these matters today and make a decision shortly, whether today or next week. Dublin Airport Authority is quite clear about the site that it wants and Fingal County Council does not disagree. It believes it is the proper site and the correct location. The authority has always been clear about the issue. A second terminal is needed because the numbers passing through Dublin Airport are greatly increasing. It was predicted that the numbers would reach 10 million to 12 million by the end of this decade, but the figure is already 17 million and people are now predicting 30 million and over.

However, it is not just a question of a second terminal and there is a number of other considerations such as road and transport access, what happens to landside areas, the use of pier D and maximising the usage and turnaround time of planes. There are also issues with regard to Shannon, the ongoing work in Cork and regional airports, equity into Aer Lingus and a host of other aviation matters. The Government has been in consultation with all of these bodies over the past number of months trying to make a decision for the long-term and not just for now.

I presume Deputy Kenny is tongue in cheek when speaking of the M50. It is a good joke now but in 1991 the experts were not sure whether it would work and if enough people would use it. People were concerned after the first six months and thought it might perhaps be a white elephant. It is part of the problem with much of what we do in this country, and not just in the political system. People are almost afraid to plan for the big picture because if one does not get it right one is strongly criticised.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The bowl was one such example.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Nobody in 1991 said that private money was a huge rip-off because many people thought that the Roche family was insane to put money into something that might not work. Of course, now everybody sees it the other way around. One cannot have it both ways.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach should return to the issue of Dublin Airport.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will answer the question that Deputy Kenny asked.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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He will refer to it. This is a daily occurrence.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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We are not looking at what might be the issue this year or next year, but forward to ten or 15 years, which is the right thing to do.

With regard to the airport, it would have been cheaper a number of years ago to build it to accommodate 30 million people, but everybody said the maximum figure before 2010 would be 10 million or 12 million. We should not play games with this issue. The reality is that we have to try to provide for 30 million or 40 million users.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach might have raised the matter but he did not answer the question. I give him two marks out of ten for wandering all over the place on the issue.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Kenny, without interruption.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Cabinet is about to make a decision in respect of a second terminal on the grounds currently owned by the Dublin Airport Authority? Is that to be the decision? A total of 18 million people passed through the airport in 2004 and there has been an 8% growth for the first quarter of 2005. It is obvious to me, who was hauled out of the Guantanamo shuffle last week for a random search, that the Taoiseach has not passed through that line for a very considerable time as he is escorted, being a privileged person doing his duty, through the airport. He does not know what people have to put up with.

I will give him an example of investors who came into this country last week. When they went upstairs, downstairs and through all the corridors to the point where their luggage is returned to them, in an overcrowded room with a low ceiling, they asked if this is the first welcome to this country as business people, investors or holidaymakers. What the Taoiseach is about to do now, apparently, is to make a decision to build a terminal that will be inadequate by 2010.

The State authority has a very poor record in building infrastructural projects. Will the Taoiseach outline the economic projects on which he will base his decision? How long will it take to build this terminal and is it to be on the ground owned by the Dublin Airport Authority? I agree with the Taoiseach that there appears to be no difference now between himself and the Tánaiste. She started out with her party, whose members are now absent except for one Minister of State and a Deputy——

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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And a former Minister.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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——on the basis that they wanted an independently run and managed terminal. The Taoiseach's far-off vision for a third terminal appears in language that is very waffly. While there is no difference between the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on the issue, this is a Fianna Fáil decision, that will be inadequate by 2010, on the basis of running over his smaller counterpart in Government.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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When the Government makes a decision, there is a process by which it is announced. That process will be followed in this matter. I do not intend to provide a trailer of the decisions that will be made — I will not get into that.

Pier D is to be finished by 2007 and the terminal by 2009. The capacity will be 30 million passengers. On current projections, by the end of this decade we will be on 20 million. The existing terminal's capacity is 20 million. At peak times there is a problem but most of the time there is not. On the question of the decision, it is a DAA decision. The statutory decision lies with the Dublin Airport Authority. We know what is its recommended site but the Government does not direct the DAA. The legislative base of the Dublin Airport Authority is that it makes that decision. It is not for the Government to make that decision.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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We know that Fianna Fáil blames the Progressive Democrats for the dithering that has gone on at Dublin Airport and we will now end up with a mishmash of a decision — one terminal for the DAA, one terminal for Fianna Fáil and one terminal for the PDs——

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Three bags full.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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——but if the PDs is to blame for that, what is happening on the national airline? Is the PDs to blame for that? Is it now the intention of Fianna Fáil to sell off control of the national airline? Will Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party, surrender control of a strategic national asset? The Taoiseach knows well what will happen. As soon as that decision is made, the critical slots at Heathrow and the critical routes that are the lifeblood of trade for this island economy will be put at risk. The Taoiseach knows as well as anybody else that we have no guarantees about these critical trade routes. He knows that if we surrender control, that is what will happen. He knows it was his indecision that led to the exit of Willie Walsh and his senior colleagues.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Nonsense.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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He knows that the irony is that the same Willie Walsh and British Airways are likely to get control of Aer Lingus and are likely to convert it into a budget airline that will be a low cost feeder to Heathrow and serve overall BA strategic interests. If the Shannon stopover has been a problem, the Taoiseach can imagine the problem that will arise when businessmen travelling here from the United States and elsewhere have to stop off in Heathrow. This is a critical national decision driven only by ideology. If the Taoiseach sells off control of the national airline, he will see it being asset stripped and this country, as an island nation dependent on these critical trade routes with the rest of the world, will be exposed and vulnerable and will suffer as a result.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The first part of the Deputy's question relates to the terminal. We are talking about one new terminal, not one for this and one for that. Obviously the Deputy is not following the story. We are talking about a second terminal under the control of the Dublin Airport Authority. We are talking about a terminal that will allow Dublin Airport grow and have capacity for 30 million passengers by 2009.

On the other issue, the Deputy has thrown in a bit of this, that and the other. He was a supporter of Willie Walsh last autumn when Willie Walsh wanted equity put into Aer Lingus and all of the other issues. The Deputy is now arguing the other case in terms of Willie Walsh but, unfortunately, he cannot have it both ways. He cannot totally change his mind between October and now.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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He wanted Willie to buy it last year.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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His own party policy, enunciated by him, is that strategic investment in the company is needed for future growth and job creation. The fact is that in the modern world in which we all live, if we want to attract business here — we are a modern country and probably the largest trading country in the OECD — we have to look to the future of Aer Lingus and the airways.

There are two key elements to ensuring a successful Aer Lingus in the future. First, it must have an appropriate cost structure. That is a key issue which it is addressing in its own strategic plan on which it has been working. It has had some problems but much success with that. Second, it must have access to funds to support growth and provide financial security.

The Cabinet sub-committee has examined this issue. I have said previously that it remains the desire of Aer Lingus to increase and grow its operations into the United States and its long haul operations to allow it increase employment and protect the future of the company. If that requires equity being put into the company, it would be insane under any policy not to provide for that. Only an ideological policy would stop it. Equity injection in Aer Lingus is essential for the national airline to continue to develop into the future — it is not an issue of ideology. To do otherwise would mean keeping a national airline that would have no success and no future. That would be wrong and I am sure Deputy Rabbitte knows that.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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This Taoiseach is the ultimate three card trick man — talk about twisting what I said. I was not all over the place on this issue. I concentrated on the net point, which is the strategic interest of our people in control of the national airline. I have no difficulty with private capital going into the company. I have great difficulty with surrendering control and that is what the Taoiseach is about to announce today. That is the issue. The Taoiseach came into this House and sought to justify it in terms of the future capital needs of the company but there is nothing preventing investment in the company. When and if the time arises there is nothing preventing the Taoiseach doing that. We know from the decision of the European Court of Justice that a golden share is of no value in protecting strategic interests. This is about tourism, trade and the national interest. Ryanair has done a great job, where it has done its job, but the last thing we need is another Ryanair. We do not want to convert Aer Lingus into a Ryanair and effectively make it a subsidiary to serve the strategic interests of BA or another company. After the Telecom Éireann scandal, there is no prospect that the Government will raise money from small shareholders so it will sell it off either in a trade sale or to a large venture capitalist. The most likely prospect is BA, as the Taoiseach knows as well as I do. In those circumstances we will lose control and be left naked. The Taoiseach is prepared to launch this for approximately €300 million but he would spend €300 million more on a football stadium that he never built. There is no point in trying to present this as a huge obstacle to the State at this stage of its development.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad Deputy Rabbitte has clarified that he has no difficulty with capital injection into Aer Lingus. If I took him up wrongly on that I apologise but now we know that Labour Party policy is to allow equity capital into Aer Lingus and I welcome that.

When the board of Aer Lingus receives advice, makes its decision and concludes how best to do this, it will be for the development of Aer Lingus. I do not see any loss to the State as it can hold whatever share it wants. Although many people would argue that is not a good idea, that discussion is for another day.

Perhaps Aer Lingus does not need to do this within the next few months but it will in the future. There are huge opportunities for developing this country's aviation industry such as getting more slots in the United States. The last list I saw from the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism showed that 22 or 23 slots would like to come here but cannot because of our current aviation policy. If we want to build on the figure of 6.5 million in the tourism sector, and I believe we do because it is good for future employment, we need more investment in Aer Lingus.

The new chief executive of Aer Lingus brings expertise of long-haul operations in the Gulf area such as Bahrain and Dubai. Major opportunities exist for this country for flight connections to those countries and the United States. This is where future growth will be and it is inevitable that Aer Lingus needs a capital injection to benefit from this. Perhaps Deputy Rabbitte is correct that there is not much capacity for small firms and that institutional money is necessary, but advice will be taken on how it will be structured. The issue now is to allow Aer Lingus to develop in a way that allows it to expand and bring in more tourists, as that is good for the country and good for the airline.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Will the Taoiseach state clearly if it is his intention today to hand over a majority of Aer Lingus to private interests? If our national airline finishes up in the hands of the sharks who dominate international big business the Taoiseach, his party and his Government will be guilty of outright treachery and of stabbing in the back the thousands of Aer Lingus workers and those associated with the company past and present who have kept the national airline going in good times and in bad, who have paid in taxes much more than many other sectors of our society and multiples of any meagre State subventions that Governments have given it.

It would stab in the back the communities that depend on the national airline and support it. Privatisation would be an abject admission by the Government that it is incapable of supervising a national asset in the interests of the people, surrendering it to the casino economics that currently dominate international capitalism.

It is not necessary to privatise Aer Lingus for investment. The billions of euro that the Government has wasted in the overruns on the road programme alone would buy planes to fly the entire population around the world several times over and for free.

Has anyone else been struck by the silence of the lambs on the Fianna Fáil backbenches? In the past when cuts in Aer Lingus or privatisation was mooted we heard shrill cries, perhaps strangled cries would be more accurate, from the Government backbenches. This time, when real opposition is needed, when they need to stand up and be counted we have the silence of the lambs. The same lambs who often found their voices to allege that small Dáil parties and Independent Deputies have no power cannot even bleat. At least we have not lost the power of speech to oppose the sabotage of our national airline in the same way as they have.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Even the Deputy does not believe that raiméis but he has to say it.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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What raiméis?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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What the Deputy has just spoken is the best definition of raiméis I have heard.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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That is socialist bleat.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Higgins should stick with the kebabs.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is extreme left, even further left than I would ever dream of going. Deputy Higgins knows that none of that is fact. Aer Lingus wants to grow and maintain jobs. The staff and trade unions in Aer Lingus have no objection to equity being put into Aer Lingus. How it is structured and formed are concerns for them but the concept that Aer Lingus can stay as it is and not expand when aircraft cost €150 million is not a sustainable position. We must move into a world that allows the company to examine new opportunities it has identified.

The company has worked hard over the past few years to restructure under the survival plan. In case Deputy Joe Higgins forgets, Aer Lingus like many other airlines in the world almost went under a few years ago and that position was not just caused by the attack on 11 September. Because of trade unions, staff and Departments working with the company, that was turned around. What it needs and wants to do now is to grow back into its previous position. This arrangement will be carefully managed and organised with advisers, and the percentage of equity, the management structure on the other side, and what safeguards are required are all issues for discussion.

For the airline to build on what it has succeeded in doing during two difficult periods, one in 1993 and the other in 2001, it needs equity. To argue otherwise is to totally misrepresent the interests of the workers about whom Deputy Joe Higgins purports to be concerned.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The snide comment from behind the Taoiseach that I should stick with the kebabs, referring to my fight against the exploitation of Gama workers, ill-behoves the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, who has responsibility for overseas development.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The comment should be withdrawn.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Does the Taoiseach believe, as an island nation, that our people should be at the mercy of aviation multinationals? Does he believe that there is no strategic interest in having a publicly owned airline? Is it the reality that his Government has no loyalty to any concept of public ownership and being in hock ideologically and financially to big business is dancing to its tune?

What was the logic of the Taoiseach making a play less than a year ago denouncing a management buy-out by Mr. Walsh and his cronies when his proposed sell-out today may well finish up with the same gentleman, in his reincarnation as chief executive of British Airways, owning our national airline? Does he agree and can he see that rather than handing it into the hands of the privateers and speculators a different strategy could keep our national airline in public ownership? The alternative is to invest in the airline, bring workers to the heart of the management rather than treating them as the enemy as some sections of management have done and develop the airline as the national asset it is in the interests of our people.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Joe Higgins knows that we operate in a global deregulated world. A management buy-out that would have taken 100% of Aer Lingus away from the staff with no State involvement, and putting in a capital injection with Government remaining as a shareholder and part of the strategic plan are entirely different. Deputy Rabbitte has drawn that distinction, which is one that I accept also. In future, we must try to develop the long-haul operations of Aer Lingus and get more access to US airports and the Far East.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Invest in it then.

11:00 am

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Government has invested in Aer Lingus, putting substantial resources into the company in the 1990s, only a decade ago. We have also worked with Aer Lingus on the survival and redevelopment plans. The Government will remain part of the company. Equity injection is not a wholesale sell-out, but aims to build the airline for the future. Ireland is an island nation and while it may be small, it is quite strong now. We want to remain strong in the future. We should note all the airlines that have gone down in the last ten years in Europe, not to mention in the United States which has a population of 800 million. We should also examine the reasons for their failure. If we want to be serious about maintaining Aer Lingus and having a say in the national airline in a deregulated global industry, then we must make strategic decisions now. It would be folly to do otherwise.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.