Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
5. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans for implementing EU Regulation No. 598/2014; the implementations that will require legislation through Dáil Éireann; the timeline for such legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32958/16]
I ask the Minister to outline to the Dáil his plan for the implementation of EU Regulation No. 598/2014. What seems to be coming down the tracks and what we heard in the Minister's press release is very concerning not only for local residents but for the future integrity of planning decisions in this country.
I thank Deputy Ryan for his question. The current regime for managing airport noise is based on EU legislation dating back to 2002 where the responsibility rests primarily with the airport operator. The entry into force in June of this year of EU Regulation No. 598/2014, to which Deputy Troy referred, represents a shift in responsibility from the airport operator to a separate, independent statutory entity or competent authority to oversee the delivery of the new, more prescriptive approach to airport noise management. Along with all other EU member states, Ireland must now give effect to this changed situation.
On 22 September last, I announced details of the manner in which EU Regulation No. 598/2014 is to be implemented in Ireland. This will require the introduction of a statutory instrument, which is envisaged will be completed by the end of this year.
There are two key reforms in the planned implementation of EU Regulation No. 598/2014. First, a dedicated, expert-focused competent authority in Ireland is being designated to take responsibility for consideration of all airport noise issues in Ireland. While I acknowledge there is no one available body perfectly suited to fulfilling this function, the Irish Aviation Authority is considered to be best placed to perform this important regulatory role. This is particularly relevant to the ongoing requirement for noise monitoring at the airport. The second essential reform is to clarify the collaborative working and public consultation arrangements that have to be applied in this area. It is important there is clarity about how the legitimate concerns of residents about increasing traffic at the airport will be taken into account.
I am delighted that there will now be a dedicated body with exclusive responsibility for dealing with the issues of noise. Previously, the DAA was essentially self-regulating in respect of noise, and that was not appropriate.
In so far as the question of primary legislation is concerned, I am not yet in a position to confirm the precise situation in that regard. That will depend on advice of the Office of the Attorney General. The immediate focus is on the completion of the statutory instrument, and if further issues need to be clarified by way of primary legislation, it would most likely arise in early 2017. I am sorry if I am repeating some of what I said to Deputy Troy earlier, but the issue overlaps.
The new runway, for which planning permission was granted in 2007 has the potential to create jobs and boost the economy. However, the permission came with conditions and the plan by the DAA to seek the setting aside of two of these conditions, conditions 3 and 5 regarding night-time flying and noise restrictions, has been strongly resisted by the local communities. What is especially concerning is the Minister's intention to appoint the IAA as the competent authority to implement this regulation which calls for a balanced approach to airport noise control balancing the potential economic benefits with the potential negative impact on the surrounding communities. If this legislation goes through, the IAA will be the only body empowered to make determinations and operating restrictions to apply at the airport and the IAA will not be bound by operating restrictions foreseen in the planning permission granted in 2007 for the new runway at Dublin Airport. I do not see how this could be supported in this House.
In the Minister's reference to whether it will be a statutory instrument or primary legislation, it would seem that if these powers are given effectively to overrule previous conditions, primary legislation would be required in terms of the planning Acts. That is my understanding. Maybe it is not in the Minister's area.
I thank the Deputy. I appreciate his concern. I note many of his constituents are concerned about this. The Deputy would be welcome, like others, to bring in any delegation of groups he wants in order that my officials and I can listen to what they have to say. I am impressed by the ones who have come in already. I am impressed by their concerns and by the fact that much of what they seek is reasonable. Some of them have had to put up with dreadful noise under the old regime. This is not a new problem, as the Deputy will be aware. Several residents have suffered under this for many years. That is why I welcome the opportunity to appoint a new authority which will not be self-regulating, as was the last authority, the DAA, in this issue which would chronically conflict it in this way.
On the appointment of the IAA, I must concede to the Deputy that I agree it is not perfect. There are one or two problems, but we made it as good as we possibly can. It is the best possible solution. Under EU rules, a body like this with a dual function is allowed. It has been permitted specifically in this case. The EU will allow this and regards it as totally independent under that status.
For the Minister to say specifically that the IAA, as the new competent authority, will not be bound by conditions in previous planning permissions is a major problem for planning law and planning decisions in the past. For better or worse, the people see this as a means to assist the DAA to get around the problem it has with those conditions. The DAA has every right to seek to change the conditions at any time, but the key point is it must be through the same planning laws and procedures that granted the permission and decided upon the conditionality in the first place. If the Minister sticks to his guns on this one, there will be wholesale opposition to it and, as Deputy Troy indicated, it will be difficult to get primary legislation on it through the House. I would ask the Minister to reconsider his position on it.
It is a pity to prejudge the decisions of a new body which has not even come into existence at this stage. No doubt the Deputy will find, because it is a new body, that it will be an improvement. I stated in answer to Deputy Ryan's first question that it is not perfect. There is no perfect solution to this problem. That said, I think he will find it will be independent, impartial and sensitive under its mandate to the wishes of the residents about whom the Deputy is concerned.
There is also another element of which I am sure the Deputy is aware. When he states this new body's decisions may be difficult to justify, there is an appeal mechanism under its establishment which will allow anybody to appeal to another completely independent authority - it is a bit clumsy to have so many independent authorities, but it is necessary - in case they feel that there is no justification for the decision which is made. An independent authority will be set up with another independent body, appointed by the Minister and consisting of independent persons who have expertise in this area, to make decisions on what the IAA has decided. One will not get a better structure than that. I can see where the Deputy thinks it might not work in practice but I think it will be the best possible solution. We will monitor it closely.