Wednesday, 6 October 2010
National Transport Authority
The Irish Aviation Authority is responsible for both safety regulation of the Irish civil aviation industry and the provision of air navigation and communications services in Irish controlled-airspace. It is proposed to integrate the safety regulation function element of the authority into the National Transport Authority. The policy to amalgamate the IAA's regulatory functions, as well as the Commission for Aviation Regulation, into the NTA is aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of Ireland's regulatory environment.
However, a major audit of Ireland's aviation safety oversight system by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, has been under way since last year. This audit will have important reputational implications for the State and the IAA and for this reason, it has taken priority over the proposal to re-organise the IAA. The final report from ICAO will be completed by the end of this year and I understand that the outcome will reflect well on aviation safety oversight in Ireland.
An incremental approach has been followed in assigning new functions to the NTA with the initial focus being on functions currently being discharged by the bus licensing division within the Department, the Railway Procurement Agency and the Commission for Taxi Regulation. Once this phase of integration has been achieved the amalgamation of aviation-related functions will be progressed.
That was a detailed answer and it is difficult to get a clear message from it. I look forward to reading it later. I have met the National Transport Authority and as yet there is no expertise on aviation in that body. A distinction must be made between regulating bus services, rail services and taxis and operating Irish airspace from a regulatory, safety and air traffic controller point of view. I am cautious about amalgamating the Irish Aviation Authority into the National Transport Authority unless there is clear separation if they are under the same roof because they are entirely different industries. The question is whether the Minister still plans to go ahead with that and, if so, what is the likely date for moving the Irish Aviation Authority into the National Transport Authority offices because it seems to be a long way off?
I accept the Deputy's point about differences in modes of transport. That is always the subject of debate when one talks in terms of getting rid of what some call quangos and regulators, as Deputies on all sides of the House have been saying in recent years. The reason they were set up separately at various stages is because people felt it was better to keep them separate. Now the mood seems to be that one should bring them all together. I accept Deputy Coveney's point; it would be important in the move to the National Transport Authority that it is a distinct function. This will be part of the approach we take. There is a distinct expertise. The value of moving the operation over to the National Transport Authority is that a lot of the back office and administrative services can be carried out by existing staff which reduces overheads.
The ICAO report is finished and we should have it by the end of the year. That will inform the final decision on the matter but it is still intended to move the safety regulation over to the National Transport Authority. Moves will be made in that regard in the year. The National Transport Authority will have taken over the other functions that we mentioned earlier. We should be in a position to do it some time in 2011.
The National Transport Authority will be the umbrella quango established by the Minister. The taxi regulator, the National Roads Authority and the aviation authority will all come under its remit. Will the Minister answer for those matters that come under the overarching remit of the National Transport Authority? Will he be prepared to answer questions in the House on those matters? The National Transport Authority will take over all of those bodies shortly.
The current practice will stand. The Minister will still remain responsible to the House for questions on matters of policy. The bodies will be directly responsible for day to day operational matters. Members of the Oireachtas who wish to query the day to day operations of any of those organisations will have the opportunity to do so, first, through the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and, second, through the Committee of Public Accounts on financial matters. The Minister will remain responsible for policy in all of those areas.
I have a brief question for the Minister on the Irish Aviation Authority. Does he plan to follow up on statements made last year following industrial action by air traffic controllers and to take action and produce legislation if necessary to ensure we do not have a repeat of what happened in Belgium and Spain last week so that Irish airspace is not closed down by less than 300 air traffic control staff?
Fine Gael is trying to draft legislation in this area at the moment.
Exactly, so if you rule me out of order, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I will sit down.
I did follow up with the Irish Aviation Authority specifically and with colleagues in government. It is a matter for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation under labour law. The Irish Aviation Authority is pursuing this matter in negotiations with the unions involved and in the context of the Croke Park agreement.