Wednesday, 15 May 2019
Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018: From the Seanad (Resumed)
I wish to speak to the Government's amendments Nos. 1 and 2, which seek to remove two amendments we passed on Report Stage in this House. Like several other amendments, the Minister saw fit to have them removed in the Seanad. The Government refused to allow time for a proper debate, but was happy to push through the Minister's amendments. This shows a shocking disregard for the democratic process. All this was facilitated by Fianna Fáil, which says one thing to local residents and then stabs them in the back by supporting the Government. I was happy that Fianna Fáil supported the two Sinn Féin amendments that passed on Report Stage in the Dáil, but by facilitating this farce in the Seanad that work has been undone. I hope that party will redeem itself today by voting with the Opposition against amendments Nos. 1 and 2 to ensure the health and well-being of residents is prioritised.
The two Sinn Féin amendments put the health and well-being of local residents on a statutory footing. One ensured the inclusion of a clause which sought to include the well-being and health of local residents in decision making on noise at the airport, and the second put an onus on the authority to report on the effect its decision had on local residents and how their requirements were taken into consideration. The Minister will argue that the health of residents is covered elsewhere in EU regulations, but there is no reason it should not be included in our national legislation too. This is about safeguarding the health of people, and it should be given legislative backing. The Minister has said on a previous occasion that including it in this legislation will give health and well-being a precedence over other considerations. So what? That is entirely reasonable.
From the start, local residents have felt completely left out of the process and have legitimate concerns around planning issues. These amendments encourage consultation with local residents. Trust in the noise regulator and related authorities has taken a battering, and there are serious concerns about retrospective changes to planning for flights and other developments at the airport. The retrospective changes that will be made hereafter are the main concern of residents. The health of the residents is being put at risk, and it is imperative that consultation takes place with them, and that their health and wishes are taken on board by the competent authority - An Bord Pleanála - at the airport. The two amendments passed in the Dáil on Report Stage will provide for that input from residents. We will oppose the two Government amendments and support the amendments to amendments from the Labour Party and also from the Independents and the Technical Group, namely, amendments Nos. 1 and 3.
After two hours of debate before the recent recess Deputy Troy took to his feet and, based on the difficulty he was having and the pressure he was under in supporting this flawed legislation, decided to have a go and have a rant. I want to remind the Deputy of those comments from a few weeks ago.
He was looking in my direction, but perhaps it was directed at other Members as well. He said I had attended no briefings, and he was wrong. He said I did not attend Committee Stage, and he was wrong about that. He said I had never raised the issue before, and he was wrong about that. He was wrong on all fronts.
It will not. Deputy Troy indicated that he was proud of his role in the facilitating the passing of this legislation, even though it is fundamentally flawed as it concerns the role of Fingal County Council, which is not independent as described in the regulations themselves.
We spent two hours before the recess trying to convince the Minister on these three amendments on health. We spent a long time on this aspect, and the Minister responded by saying that these things are included in the regulations themselves. There is some merit in that. However, in order for the Minister to carry the day here in terms of getting the amendments passed in the Seanad through this House he requires the further support of Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil did not indicate, in the two hours of debate on the last occasion, its position on these three amendments. Does it intend to facilitate the Minister again in passing this flawed legislation? I would like to hear from Fianna Fáil in terms of these three specific amendments.
We would save a lot of time today if Fianna Fáil indicates that it will support the legislation in the form it left this House before it went to the Seanad. The Minister spent a lot of time on the last occasion name-dropping Deputies Troy and Darragh O'Brien, outlining the help he got from them in passing this flawed legislation.
When Deputy Darragh O'Brien took to his feet to deal with these amendments he spoke at length about a later amendment that we are all supporting. I do not believe we should spend much more time trying to convince the Minister, but we should ask Fianna Fáil what its position on the health amendments is, whether or not it is supporting the Minister again, and if so, why.
Maria Bailey, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Paschal Donohoe, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Charles Flanagan, John Halligan, Simon Harris, Seán Kyne, Josepha Madigan, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Kate O'Connell, Fergus O'Dowd, John Paul Phelan, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, David Stanton.
Tommy Broughan, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, David Cullinane, Clare Daly, Dessie Ellis, Denise Mitchell, Louise O'Reilly, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Brendan Ryan.
Bobby Aylward, John Brassil, James Browne, Mary Butler, Jackie Cahill, Stephen Donnelly, Seán Haughey, Michael Moynihan, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, Fiona O'Loughlin, Éamon Ó Cuív, Eamon Scanlon, Niamh Smyth, Robert Troy.
Maria Bailey, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Pat Deering, Paschal Donohoe, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Charles Flanagan, John Halligan, Simon Harris, Seán Kyne, Josepha Madigan, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Kate O'Connell, Fergus O'Dowd, John Paul Phelan, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, David Stanton.
Tommy Broughan, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Dessie Ellis, Denise Mitchell, Jonathan O'Brien, Louise O'Reilly, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Brendan Ryan.
Bobby Aylward, John Brassil, James Browne, Mary Butler, Jackie Cahill, Stephen Donnelly, Seán Haughey, Michael Moynihan, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, Fiona O'Loughlin, Éamon Ó Cuív, Eamon Scanlon, Niamh Smyth, Robert Troy.
I move amendment No. 1 to Seanad amendment No. 3:
After "lines 14 to 16", to insert the following:"and substitute the following:'(2) The competent authority shall direct the airport authority to ensure that average noise exposure is in accordance with WHO guidelines, as applicable.'.".
Tommy Broughan, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Dessie Ellis, Denise Mitchell, Jonathan O'Brien, Louise O'Reilly, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Brendan Ryan.
Maria Bailey, Pat Breen, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Charles Flanagan, John Halligan, Simon Harris, Seán Kyne, Josepha Madigan, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Kate O'Connell, Fergus O'Dowd, John Paul Phelan, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, David Stanton.
Bobby Aylward, John Brassil, James Browne, Mary Butler, Jackie Cahill, Stephen Donnelly, Seán Haughey, Michael Moynihan, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Eamon Scanlon, Niamh Smyth, Robert Troy.
I move amendment No. 1 to Seanad amendment No. 4:
In section 20 proposed to be inserted by Seanad Amendment No. 4, in the definition of "scheme" in subsection (1), after "the daa" to insert ", for Dublin Airport and any adjacent area,".
I have two amendments to Seanad amendment No. 4 and if the Minister was moving them he might call them technical amendments. Amendment No. 4 from the Seanad deals with a noise insulation scheme and the definition "means a noise insulation scheme put in place by the daa before the relevant day and in force immediately before such day". Given that the DAA also has control of Cork Airport, a scheme for the latter might comply with the legislation here. It is about tidying up the language to ensure that it accurately reflects what is intended.
Amendment No. 2 to Seanad amendment No. 4 relates to subsection (2) of the latter, which deals with a noise insulation scheme in section 20. The subsection states "Subject to subsection (3), on and after the relevant day, a scheme shall be deemed to be a noise mitigation measure introduced by the competent authority" and my amendment would have this introduced "by virtue of a regulatory decision adopted" by the competent authority. This would bring consistency of language used previously in the Bill. These are two technical amendments and I am sure officials will advise the Minister that they ought to be accepted.
The Bill is explicit with respect to the new role of the noise regulator in overseeing and holding the DAA to account regarding existing home insulation schemes and the homes buyout. From the outset of Committee Stage, Deputies Troy and Darragh O'Brien made it clear they could only support it if included a provision that the noise regulator assume responsibility for all existing noise insulation schemes available to residents around Dublin Airport and the voluntary purchase scheme.
I will not accept Deputy Brendan Ryan's amendments, although I appreciate that he is trying to do something good. He will understand when I explain that what he is proposing introduces uncertainty to what is now clear text that has been worked on extensively in recent months. It has been the subject of discussions with Deputy Darragh O'Brien in particular and cleared by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to ensure that it is sound. For example, there is no clear definition of what Deputy Brendan Ryan terms as "any adjacent area" and this type of phraseology does not add to the Bill; it instead introduces a degree of uncertainty. The text as it stands covers all schemes put in place by the DAA. The Bill applies to Dublin Airport, not Cork, and there is no need to further qualify that.
The effect of Deputy Brendan Ryan's other proposed amendment, which references a regulatory decision, would be to exclude existing noise insulation schemes not brought in by means of a regulatory decision. I am sure that is not his intention.
These are the voluntary schemes we are trying to include. I have no doubt that the Deputy did not intend this and, as a result, he might consider withdrawing the amendment. This is an area in which there is broad agreement on the right action and the Bill, as amended, is doing the right thing. There has been strong engagement on it across the floor of this House. I know Deputy Brendan Ryan has further amendments that were tabled in good faith but I assure him they are unnecessary.
There certainly has been strong engagement across the House on this Bill over a period. As a result of that engagement, we succeeded in winning votes on a number of vital amendments on Report Stage. With the help of Fianna Fáil doing a flip-flop, the Government succeeded in having some of those important amendments overturned, which is why we are where we are today.
Insulation is critical to the residents affected by noise and before us we have legislation that purports to be a measure to protect airport neighbours. The difficulty we have is the reason for the Minister's desire to introduce this. His failure to amend the parts of the Bill that would have prohibited the DAA from coming back and overturning the two night restrictions means that noise insulation is of extra critical importance. The buyout and insulation measures were put in place in the context that the two planning restrictions for night flights would be upheld and embedded in any process. Once one is changed, as we know the DAA will seek to do, the other must also be changed. It is an open secret that the DAA is waiting for this legislation to be passed and for the competent authority to be established in order that it can overturn the conditions relating to night flights between 9 p.m and 7 a.m. on the new runway and the limit of 65 flights per night on the existing runway.
There are a couple of problems with this and, in fairness to the residents in the north of the county, they have done a large amount of diligent research into the matter. Ms Sabrina Joyce from Portmarnock in particular has made the point that the Bill we are now debating is seeking to overturn those conditions put in place by An Bord Pleanála in 2007. We all know this to be the case. The planning permission was given subject to these conditions after reviewing environmental impact statements and it was decided upon after appropriate assessments carried out by the board under strict European regulations, namely, the birds directive, or Directive 2009/147/EC, and the habitats directive. This is a critical point that we flagged before because of the Minister's mishandling of the Bill already. I have no doubt that this legislation will end up being the subject of legal challenge but if the Government wishes to dispense with the conditions relating to night flights and limited movements, appropriate assessments must be carried out from a legal perspective on the impact of night flights on special areas of conservation and special protection areas under flights paths towards all existing and proposed runways. These include Dublin Bay, Howth Head, Baldoyle Bay, Ireland's Eye, the Rockabill to Dalkey Island special area of conservation, Malahide Estuary, Rogerstown Estuary and so on. The disturbance of birds, particularly in light of a high number of protected species, will be important. We were here last week to pass a climate emergency measure and speaking about the loss of biodiversity but we cannot have both of these. We need to discuss the subject holistically. These matters should be taken into account before the Bill proceeds any further.
The Minister may not be aware that the UK's advisory Committee on Climate Change made critical warnings to the British Government about planned increases in aviation due at Heathrow, for example, indicating that these must be revisited and curbed in order to restrict CO2 emissions. Everybody is now allegedly a climate change campaigner but nevertheless we can see the current position in the Bill. The reality is that we need to achieve zero net emissions as quickly as possible. As a result, our figures and what we attempt to do must be revised in that context. This means that insulation is critical. The section relating to the insulation and buy-out is a bit of a contradiction.
There is no impact at all. The issue of a voluntary buyout is not even dealt with in the Bill. As for the noise insulation measures, however, what we are essentially saying in the legislation is that the noise contour levels applicable to the noise insulation programme shall remain as they are now, both before and after enactment of the legislation. As I said, the scheme was set on the basis of restricting it to 65 night flights. It was never intended to be in place for unlimited night flights so it is totally unacceptable as a means of mitigation for any household exposed to the night contours currently applicable under the night noise insulation programme. Therefore, we now have a huge contradiction here, and it comes back to what we know is at the heart of this, that is, the fact there is a legal obligation to take into account the impact of noise on surrounding communities. If DAA wants to loosen this obligation, it must come up with a much better insulation scheme and a much better buyout scheme than those now on the table. This legislation does not provide either, yet we know it will be used by DAA. We have a serious problem with that, and I find it absolutely reprehensible that the Government has gone in and forced unwelcome changes to try to subvert the wishes of this House.
I wish to clarify matters. I spoke at length on 18 April about this and about the fact that this whole section is in the Bill at our insistence. It is amendments Deputy Troy and I tabled, which were carried, that take the noise insulation scheme and the voluntary purchase scheme away from DAA and give them to the competent authority. That is what this section does. That is factual. There is no contradiction here. That is what happens, it is in the Bill for the first time, and that is significant. It is also significant that it will no longer be the airport authority that makes the offers. The offers until now to most of the households, particularly those on the west side of the airport, in the St. Margaret's area and old Cloghran, have been wholly inadequate, and I have said that time and again. The provisions of the scheme and the valuations in it have been inadequate. This is a way of moving the matter forward, and people should be honest and recognise this rather than making statements that are not factual. The fact of the matter is that now, for the first time, a competent authority, not Dublin Airport Authority, will decide on the terms, the scope and the scale of what is at present the voluntary purchase scheme, which is an insufficient scheme. That is a fact, it is indisputable, and this is in the Bill because of the amendments we tabled on Committee Stage, which others did not support. The provisions are important and they are in the Bill.
I worked extensively with officials in the Department on noise contours and the noise insulation scheme to ensure the scheme be taken away from Dublin Airport Authority because of charges of conflict of interest and other charges, with which I agree. If the noise insulation scheme is expanded, it will cost the airport authority more money. This is why I wanted the scheme to fall under the remit of the competent authority and why I wanted the Bill to deal with "contours", not a "contour". This is another change we made to ensure that this was dealt with in terms of the new runway and the new flight paths, both in and out, and that there would be an independent arbiter to determine who was in the scheme and who was not. Again, this is indisputable, so there is no point at this late stage in trying to muddy the waters. The provision is in the legislation now, and that is significant because it will bring fairness back into it. It also moves the situation forward. If this is not passed, we will be left with the status quo, with what we have, which is an insufficient insulation scheme and a wholly insufficient voluntary purchase scheme. We would just be saying we are not going to do anything with it, that we are going to just leave it as it is and that we are going to have another four, five, six or seven years of people not being able to move on with their lives, not being able to make decisions as to where they will live and not being able to get their houses, apartments and businesses insulated. That is the alternative. While not everything in the Bill is perfect, there have been major improvements, particularly in this area, in section 20.
What this legislation does not do - and I wish to correct a charge Deputy Clare Daly has just made in this regard - is set aside any of the restrictions in place at present. To tell people otherwise is utterly incorrect and irresponsible. I am completely opposed to unrestricted night flights, as most people are, as indeed my party is. That is a decision the competent authority will make, and it could very well end up with An Bord Pleanála, which is mentioned in the Bill, again at our insistence. If the decision ended up with An Bord Pleanála, it would be an application made by the airport authority, which would have to be adjudicated on by the competent authority. Therefore, the section does not set the restrictions aside should the second runway open. At present, as we know, there are no restrictions under the existing runway in law. When the new runway opens, the An Bord Pleanála restrictions will take place. Should DAA wish to do so, it will take a case to the competent authority, which will be decided and which anyone can then appeal further, whether or not he or she objected at the first stage. Again, this is in the legislation at our insistence.
There have, then, been significant changes made to this scheme. The Bill does not set aside these restrictions, nor should it ever do so. I understand the points Deputy Brendan Ryan was trying to make by way of his amendment to this amendment. I think we had to tidy up the initial amendment we tabled on the previous Stage in order that it did not have the unintended consequence of being applicable to anywhere across the country that may be impacted by flight paths. We want this to apply to the adjacent communities both to the east and to the west of the airport, and indeed north and south of the runways, when applicable, in order that we are not expanding the scheme to other parts of the country. By passing this amendment, it is a significant change in the Bill and one for which we fought. I have circulated the official note from the Department which I read into the record on 18 April. It is dated 11 April and states exactly what this change will mean, that is, independent regulation, oversight and application of a revised and, it is hoped, a greatly improved voluntary purchase scheme and expanded noise insulation scheme, which are needed right now. If we do not do this, this scheme will not be expanded because it will remain in the gift of Dublin Airport Authority, and I do not want that to happen.
I accept the logic of the comments Deputy O'Brien has just made on the insulation scheme and the role of DAA, but they still do not sufficiently address the big problem with the Bill, which, even at this late stage, we should repeat. I refer to the fact that the regulator, the competent authority, is hopelessly conflicted. I am reading comments sent in to us by constituents in Dublin Fingal and Dublin Bay North. The reality is that we have a local authority deriving at least a quarter of its revenue, its rates, from the airport zone, yet we are still creating a situation in which the independence we need in an independent regulator is not there.
Reference has been made to An Bord Pleanála, but over the past year or so we have become used to An Bord Pleanála rushing all kinds of major developments, such as huge construct-to-rent schemes, through the planning process, which does not really give us confidence about this Bill. There is no question but that this legislation will be revisited in respect of the provisions relating to the competent authority. I will state for the final time that I cannot see what was the logic of not appointing the Environmental Protection Agency, which under the 2006 European noise directive is designated as our competent national noise authority. Why the Minister did not do so beggars belief. We have read out the correspondence from the Fingal County Council executives, who just felt they did not have the resources to carry this out. Deputy Darragh O'Brien is Tadhg an dá thaobh here, speaking out of both sides of his mouth, both to the locality and nationally. The reality is that we do not have an independent competent authority and that we will have to return to this, certainly in the next Dáil.
The debate on this Bill has been very educational for many residents of Fingal who have only become aware of this issue as a result of figures provided on Dublin Airport. Fingal County Council prepared a noise plan recently which found there had been a 450% increase in exposure to high levels of aircraft noise. The number of people exposed in the Fingal borough increased by 5,300 as a result of new developments in the constituency the Taoiseach and I share, which includes Tyrrelstown, Hollystown and Hollywoodrath. Those residents are only starting to become aware of the problems they will face and this Bill has caused them to become active on this issue.
A European Commission study of 224 airports in Europe found that half of them had curfews in place, in other words, they did not allow night flights, one in five had noise limits, one in five had traffic restrictions and 3% had noise budgets. Dublin Airport has none of these measures in place. It also incentivises airlines to land after 11 p.m. by not applying overnight parking fees. Regardless of what happens here today, what does the Minister intend to do about that? As the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, he has just agreed to remove from legislation very important amendments intended to keep noise levels below the range of decibels the World Health Organization considers appropriate. Everybody believes that the Dublin Airport Authority will try to change the current restrictions in the planning conditions, based on the argument put forward by Fianna Fáil that it would be in the commercial interest of the airport to do so.
There is no balancing of the rights of residents who bought homes in the area. What happened in the Seanad was really sly because everybody knows that House is not a representative or democratic body. The Government tried to abolish the Seanad a short time ago and the House was only retained as a safeguard because people lack trust in all politicians, especially those from the big parties. We now see people who were not elected by the residents of the affected area trying to shaft some of the existing protections. I know this is hard for Fianna Fáil because it supports the Government but failing to keep some protections for residents is unacceptable. Facts and figures have been sent by residents showing the gross exaggeration of the impact of protections on flights. I may return to that issue later.
Some of the points I made on the Bill were general in nature and some of the points of correction Deputy Darragh O'Brien raised with me were correct. I was trying to find my bearings in this body of work. In line with Deputy Broughan, some of my comments were about the overall Bill and not about this particular amendment.
On the amendment, while it is probably better to have it in the legislation, that does not negate the fact that we have abdicated our responsibility by agreeing in other parts of the Bill to allow Fingal County Council to be the competent authority. We have weakened the legislation by adopting this amendment as a kind of democratic check. We are making it out to be a great achievement for the local community that the Dublin Airport Authority will not now decide upon these important matters of insulation. That argument sounds valid and is fair enough but it is defeated by the decision to give that responsibility to Fingal County Council given the conflict of interest involved, which Deputies have spelt out ad nauseamin the course of this debate. In case there is any doubt remaining, it is correct that it is better to have this amendment in the legislation. The overall position, however, is that we are doing this in the context of a conflict of interest, which means the measure offers a weak form of protection. The argument that it will be a panacea is weakened by the decision to select Fingal County Council as the competent authority.
I was certainly not making the points about the removal of the restrictions in the context of this amendment. It is an open secret, however, that the Dublin Airport Authority, in all of its correspondence to us, informed us that it will seek to overturn those night restrictions once this legislation is in place. Perhaps I am reading this incorrectly but the problem with this amendment in that context is that it only applies to changes after the Bill has been passed. How will the issue be addressed for people who are impacted now? I am not sure how that will be done and I would like to hear more on that issue. My main intent was to correct that point.
Deputy Darragh O'Brien has referred on several occasions to An Bord Pleanála being mentioned in the legislation "at our insistence". An Bord Pleanála has always been the intended appeals body irrespective of which organisation is designated the competent authority. It is nonsense to try to take credit for that or to claim that An Bord Pleanála has been designated the appeals body "at our insistence". It is being done as a way of somehow negating all the other measures that Fianna Fáil allowed the Minister to include in the Bill by supporting him.
I now turn to this specific amendment. Speaking to residents about the voluntary dwelling purchase scheme, they referred to their engagement with the Dublin Airport Authority and Fingal County Council. The constant refrain is that the scheme is the scheme. I have been studying and reading about this and I fail to see how this amendment changes the scheme. I do not understand how it opens up the scheme with which people are not happy. I also do not know how it opens up the possibility of a new scheme. I refer to the proposals and the agreement between the Dublin Airport Authority and Fingal County Council that are required to be delivered by An Bord Pleanála.
Many questions have been raised during this debate. We have covered some of them already at great length while discussing other sections. I am happy that Deputy Broughan, Deputy Clare Daly and others were indulged again in questioning the independence of Fingal County Council. It is a fair point but one which we addressed fully on Second Stage and for many hours when discussing amendments. The arguments remain the same. The Dáil has decided. If this matter is to be revisited, that is a perfectly legitimate claim for Deputy Broughan to make. As far as I am concerned, however, I do not intend to repeat the answer to the argument that I have given many times in this House. The Deputy can raise the issue again on Fifth Stage, should he so wish.
Turning to the specific questions, Deputy Clare Daly had a query on insulation. I assure her that the Bill covers existing schemes and gives the noise regulator powers to amend and-or extend those schemes, as deemed necessary. New schemes could also be introduced.
Deputy Coppinger raised an issue which was also addressed by Deputy Clare Daly, Deputy Darragh O'Brien and others. She asked whether this legislation was introduced to overturn existing restrictions. That is not the purpose of this Bill.
There is an assumption in the House that the noise regulator is somehow on one side not the other and is going to make noise worse for the residents. That is not the intention of the Bill. The aim of the legislation is to create a fair playing field and to have a balanced approach. If anything, it will be of benefit to see a fair and equitable regime being run where the interests of the residents are of primary consideration. I am sure that those who talk about this have all read the document which is so important, namely, EU Regulation No. 598/2014. I cannot count the number of times the interests of local residents are mentioned in that document. If people are saying to me that this document is an empty or token gesture in their direction, that is obviously not the case.
Some of the objections which have been expressed here are sincere. We have had a very good debate in the House and I take my hat off to Deputies Brendan Ryan, Ellis, Broughan, Coppinger, Troy, Clare Daly and Darragh O'Brien. Everything has been sincerely expressed here. It is not the perfect Bill that everybody wants, including the Government. It is not our original Bill and it was not our original intention to do certain things which are in it. However, there has been a great deal of movement in the legislation towards the particular representations made by Members in the House. Deputy Darragh O'Brien is right when he claims credit for the changes on insulation. It is a fair claim. It is a political claim and that is fine too. Deputy Clare Daly is certainly entitled to claim credit for other amendments. There is no shame in that and the Government has no problem acknowledging it. It is somewhat unfair to suggest at this stage, however, that the Bill is there to overturn those restrictions which were introduced so many years ago. I do not have a clue what the noise regulator is going to say about those restrictions, nor does anyone else in the House. The Deputies are right and the DAA has made no secret about the fact that it will challenge those restrictions, as it is entitled to do. However, to suggest in the House that such a challenge is somehow a foregone conclusion and that a decision will be taken which is not in the interests of residents is unfair. We have not seen how the regulator operates yet. We have established a very fair, pan-European system which is there to protect the interests of all parties. Sometimes those interests are in conflict, which is why we have a regulator. Deputy Clare Daly said a legal challenge is coming. That is fair enough. If people want to take a legal challenge, there is nothing I can do about it. That is how the democratic system works and thank God that it does.
To Deputy Coppinger I note that the Bill balances the economic growth of the airport with the rights of local residents. That is right. I do not know how the Deputy would put it, but in my view it balances those interests. In fact, it probably tips the balance in favour of the residents, which I support. Their interests are vital. It may not be music to the Deputy's ears but, as I have had to repeat many times in the House, including on the last occasion, I have met every group of residents who have asked me to meet them. I am open to correction in that there may be one group I have not met, albeit it was not through any unwillingness to do so and was perhaps a matter of a time factor. Since the last time I was in the House, I have had discussions with the DAA and it has assured me it will continue, in accordance with an assurance I gave the House, to engage in meaningful discussions with the residents if the Bill is passed. It is not going to just cut them off and say the Bill is passed, the noise regulator is in and it is all over. The DAA will continue to try to accommodate residents and I will continue to assist in any way I can. That is what the Bill is about. It is not about confrontation, it is about conciliation. It is difficult. It is not a soluble problem. One cannot have an airport without noise. That is just not possible.
One must therefore attempt to reach a solution in which people are adequately and perhaps generously compensated when they are inconvenienced and discomfited in the national interest. We cannot close the airport. That would be absolutely crazy.
As we come to the end of the debate, it is particularly notable that in the provision under discussion, we have a good example of compromise which has worked very well. I see no shame in it. I congratulate Fianna Fáil and Deputy Clare Daly. I congratulate Deputies Broughan, Ellis, Brendan Ryan and Coppinger for their contributions also. They have gained concessions and changes in the Bill and that is the way it should have operated. At this point, it is time to acknowledge that some of the battles are over. The battle over the independence of Fingal County Council is decided, albeit the matter may go elsewhere. If it does, it does. I thank the Deputies in any event for their co-operation and willingness to compromise. I am sorry that there were concessions we could not make which Deputies would have liked because we did not consider them to be in the national interest. Nevertheless, we will end up with a very fair Bill which has been improved by the contributions of everyone in the House.
I had not realised amendment No. 3 to amendment No. 4 was out of order. That means there is no mention whatsoever of the voluntary buy-out scheme and the points we were making that this would address some deficits in that scheme. Is it not the case that without Deputy Troy's amendment No. 3, that does not apply? I would like a further explanation. It looks like a gaping hole.
Perhaps I should clarify for the House that amendment No. 3 to Seanad amendment No. 4 seeks to include in Seanad amendment No. 4 provisions relating to the DAA's voluntary purchase scheme. However, Seanad amendment No. 4 relates to the noise insulation scheme only. Standing Order 195 provides that no amendment shall be moved to an amendment made by the Seanad that is not strictly relevant. The amendment must therefore be ruled out of order. It is not strictly relevant to the Seanad amendment.
Where is the protection then for people who are already suffering from the inadequate voluntary buyout scheme that is currently in place? Is there any capacity to have that improved? I know the Minister can say the DAA could decide to do that if it likes, but is there a requirement in legislation on the competent authority that would enable it to improve the voluntary buyout scheme as it exists now? It is a huge issue for the residents who are here and for those who have taken legal action against the DAA and have had an enormous legal bill for which there is still no clarity on how it can be paid. Where is the scope for that protection? To correct the Minister, I did not say this Bill was being brought in to overturn the conditions of the planning condition. This is clearly to implement an EU regulation and we all know that. What we discussed many times is that there is a contradiction in a measure that was supposed to protect communities being hijacked by the DAA to overturn the conditions that are there and there is no secret about that. I want to know where is the capacity for the competent authority to deal with the issue of the voluntary buyout or to change it.
In Deputy Troy's amendment there is reference to a consultation with local residents and so on. Before the Minister went into the Seanad he had that in the previous part of the Bill, in section 20. Therefore, what is the level of consultation? There is a particular issue around this in that we are governed by European legislation, are we not? We are governed by European legislation in the sense that if we want to revisit the balanced approach about which the Minister spoke a lot when we started discussion on the Bill, we have to go back to Europe and to some extent this House is hamstrung in that whole area. Is that the case?
We will finish off this now. I said that amendments Nos. 4 and 6 and the amendments to same were all being discussed together so I am out of order. However, I will allow a relevant question, not a statement, and then a reply from the Minister.
It is a relevant question in so far as it is the same question I put on the scheme when I was on my feet previously and it is similar to what Deputy Clare Daly has now raised. This amendment does not open up any channels for the totally inadequate scheme that exists to be reopened or to be improved in any way.
On Deputy Broughan's question, he is right. European law is superior and we will be subject to changes. If the EU makes a change we will be subject to that as well. There is no question about that and nobody has been trying to hide that fact. In some cases it is a great protection for the residents.
On consultation, the level of same will be similar to the level of consultation that has happened before but it will continue in the interests of residents.
On the question from Deputies Clare Daly and Brendan Ryan, section 29 on page 52 gives the regulator power and authority over all existing schemes, including the voluntary schemes, and it is my understanding that this will give it the power to reopen and to open. It covers all schemes, it is all encompassing and the regulator has full powers.