Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Regional Airports: Motion [Private Members]
"That Dáil Éireann: recognises the vital strategic role occupied by the aviation sector in the development of the national economy and the importance of maintaining connectivity to the regions;
is deeply concerned at the imminent crisis facing Irish airports, in particular, Shannon, Knock,Kerry, Donegal and Cork airports; and
recognises that transatlantic flights to and from Shannon can be operated with a reduced carbon footprint per passenger compared to those operated from Dublin Airport, and also recognises the unsustainability of an ever-increasing proportion of tourists flying into Dublin Airport whence they are being bussed to other regions of the State;
acknowledges the link between attracting foreign direct investment into regions and their aviation connectivity; and
calls on the Government to:— implement in full, the recommendations of the Aviation Recovery Taskforce;
— prepare a new national aviation policy that recognises the importance of regional connectivity to balanced and more sustainable regional development;
— revise Fáilte Ireland's objectives to include attracting tourists to fly directly into the State's regional airports;
— develop a testing regime for passengers to and from both orange and red listed destinations in the European Union (EU) in order to fully implement the spirit of the recent European Council Recommendation on a co-ordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic;
— include Shannon and Cork airports in financial assistance currently provided by the State for capital works and the development of routes (as allowed under EU state aid rules) by increasing said financial assistance in recognition of the precarious financial position of airports outside Dublin; and
— acknowledge Shannon Airport's traditional role as Ireland’s transit airport and the reduced carbon emissions of intercontinental flights from the airport due to its longer runway and, in acknowledgement thereof, limit fifth freedom rights to airlines using Shannon Airport for intercontinental transit flights."
I thank my colleagues in the Independent Group and the other Independent groups for their support. As an island nation, the aviation sector affects each and every part of this island and this State. It is clear that the downturn in tourism and aviation, which is a direct result of Covid-19 but has also been contributed to by the Government's response to Covid-19, has affected every part of this State but has disproportionately affected the western seaboard. That much is clear from a report published by the Central Bank less than a month ago. It pointed to far greater job losses in counties on the western seaboard, which are dependent on seasonal industries, especially tourism which has, unfortunately, been decimated by Covid-19.
I note the Government's countermotion states that we need to examine aviation policy and that it had planned to examine it but that, because of Covid-19, it will concentrate on the short term. I have no problem with concentrating on the short term but I have a problem when doing that is to the detriment of looking at the long term. I do not believe the two are mutually exclusive and I do not see why both cannot be done together. I urge the Government, notwithstanding its countermotion, to look at the short term and long term in tandem.
Speaking of the short term, I welcome yesterday's announcements by the Government. I welcome the support of all of my colleagues in the Independent Group and the other Independent groups. It concentrated minds in the Government on this issue, which we have been talking about for a long time. There have been announcements for Shannon Airport in particular, which I have welcomed. Yesterday, as a result of that concentration of minds, we had an announcement that affects most of the airports in the country and certainly the airports that are the subject matter of this motion. The Government's announcement does not go far enough, however. One can never go far enough in supporting something that is so vital to the State. We have put almost all of our eggs in the aviation basket. Uniquely for an island nation, we do not have a large shipping industry. However, we have a large aviation sector, one which is very important for the future of this country.
I will briefly mention the Sinn Féin countermotion. I have discussed it with some of my colleagues. I, for one, have no problem with including Waterford Airport in the motion. The reason it was not included is that it faces a requirement for capital funding to bring its runway up to the required standard to operate scheduled flights, whereas the airports mentioned in the motion all had scheduled flights until very recently.
To return to the issue of a national aviation policy, aviation policy is effectively a free-for-all at the moment. We say that is free market economics but, unfortunately, that does not always work. I share with both the Green Party and the Labour Party – I see Deputy Duncan Smith is present – the view that we need competition. The central planning of sectors by the State does not necessarily work. We need a degree of competition but, equally, we need the State to set the parameters of the market and outline the ambit in which competition would take place. At the moment, what we have is Dublin Airport undercutting all of the other airports because of economies of scale. It does so to the detriment of other airports but also to the detriment of people who live near Dublin Airport because it does not necessarily make sense to have all flights in the country flying in and out of Dublin. I will move on to fifth freedom flights in a moment. There are flights out of Dublin Airport which do not even benefit the greater Dublin area or the people around it. Dublin is not a 24-hour airport whereas Shannon Airport is. People bought houses and chose to live near Dublin Airport in the belief that it would not be a 24-hour airport because it was not one at the time.
Likewise, people around Shannon knew the situation when they chose to live there. Indeed, Shannon was built around the airport.
With regard to fifth freedom flights, we need to be very clear about what they are. They are intercontinental flights from one continent to another that merely transit through Ireland. The majority of passengers board in Africa, where most intercontinental flights through Ireland governed by the fifth freedom originate, and disembark in North America. They get on in Africa and get off in North America having merely flown through Ireland. Such flights can let off or take on passengers in Ireland but the point of origin and the destination are outside Ireland. For a long time, Shannon Airport was the transit airport for such flights, partly because Aeroflot was able to refuel there. Dublin Airport, however, undertook a very aggressive campaign to undercut Shannon Airport to attract those flights to boost its passenger numbers to justify expansions. These expansions were, by the way, carried out in the teeth of opposition from local residents. While there was a very short-term benefit for Dublin Airport in attracting these flights, it was to the long-term detriment of Shannon Airport.
At the moment, it is a simple competition between Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport because they have the size of runways and the terminals required to accommodate the type of flight about which we are talking. That may change over time as technology changes. Smaller aircraft may be used for transatlantic and longer flights. Cork Airport may have a particular view on the suggestion that it is a competition between Shannon Airport and Dublin Airport but, for the moment, that is the case.
In his counter-motion, the Minister has outlined the supports Tourism Ireland provides for regional airports but, at the end of the day, we need to look to Tourism Ireland's objectives. Its objective cannot only be to get people to visit the regions. If that were to be so, we would have gridlock in Dublin while no money was spent in the other regions. Getting people to fly into Dublin before getting a bus to the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, Spanish Arch, Donegal to see Sliabh Liag or to visit sites related to the Flight of the Earls or to visit Killarney National Park for the day is not the same as getting people into the regions. It is getting them to go to the toilet in the regions or maybe have a cup of coffee. At the end of the day, they are flying into Dublin and staying there while paying the uncompetitive prices charged for Dublin hotel rooms.
All of this may seem like a pipe dream from the past. It almost seems like a different reality but we have to look at the long-term picture as well as the short-term picture. That is why we in the Independent Group are urging Government to look at a new aviation policy that takes account of the impact of aviation on our economy more broadly. Such a policy would also include objectives for Tourism Ireland to encourage people to fly into the regions. When people fly into the regions, they stay and have meals there. They spend more time and money in the regions.
To go back to what I said earlier, no amount of short-term Government funding will save our aviation sector if our airports remain closed. I spoke to the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, last May having spoken to the Irish embassy in Austria and the Austrian embassy in Dublin about the testing being carried out in that country. I do not suggest for a moment that we endanger people but we have to look at the fact that other European countries, which are less dependent on aviation, have kept their aviation sectors open to a far greater extent than we have and have managed to do so safely through the use of testing.
I know there is a tussle or battle ongoing between the Government and NPHET with regard to everything to do with Covid. That is unusual in a European context. In most other countries, medical advisers advise and the Government takes their advice, and the advice of many others, before coming to a decision. Ireland seems to be unique in that this advice is sometimes published before the Government even gets to consider it. I appreciate that NPHET has questions about any kind of testing other than polymerase chain reaction, PCR, testing. A member of NPHET who runs a laboratory that carries out PCR testing argued that it was the only acceptable type of testing. That raises questions in and of itself.
We need to look very carefully at what other countries are doing, particularly other countries that have managed to deal with Covid as least as successfully as we have. Like everybody in the country, I am glad to see the numbers falling to the extent they are, but I have questions about what we do next. What we do next will be key. We cannot stay locked down forever. I am sorry. I have gone over my ten minutes. I apologise. I urge the House to support this motion and I thank all Deputies for their interaction.
I congratulate the main sponsor of this motion, Deputy McNamara. I was happy to co-sign it. There is no doubt but that the timing of this motion and of the Government announcement of an €80 million funding package for the country's airport is not a coincidence. They are linked. At the very least, this motion has accelerated an overdue Government decision on supporting the aviation sector and regional airports.
All in all, €80 million has been allocated. This represents an extra €48 million in spending on top of what was announced in the budget. I welcome this allocation as regional airports, regional connectivity and balanced regional development are inextricably linked. The allocation of moneys to the regional airports is a recognition of their importance but it is absolutely crucial that the funding allocated is adequate to allow these airports to get back up and flying as the travel and tourism business slowly recovers. Some €6 million has been allocated to regional airports and every cent will be needed to cover operational losses. For example, Ireland West Airport Knock has accumulated approximately €4 million in operational losses this year.
It is still somewhat unclear, however, as to how the Government will distribute this funding and under what schemes. The regional airports programme is subject to state aid rules but given the extreme flexibility the EU has shown with regard to these state aid rules in many sectors, including the aviation sector, because of Covid, this should not be a significant issue. I presume the Government has cleared this hurdle.
The airport Covid damages scheme can cover some of the losses incurred while airports are closed but there is still uncertainty around how and through which channels funding will be allocated. We need clarity on this issue. Tthe current regional airports programme will cover approximately €1.3 million of the losses of €4 million at Ireland West Airport Knock, but we need certainty as to how and when other funding will be made available. I believe the Government intends to find a solution. The sooner this is done, the better.
I have examined the proposed amendments and I support Deputy Cullinane's amendment, which proposes that Waterford Airport be included. Balanced regional development means exactly that; it must include all regions. When we speak about all regions, it is important to recognise that the western seaboard has suffered most during the Covid downturn. Given that tourism in one of the main contributors to the economy in my constituency, which comprises Sligo, Leitrim, north Roscommon, south Donegal and the surrounding areas, and that overseas tourism has virtually collapsed, it is crucial that Ireland West Airport Knock, Donegal Airport and Shannon Airport be supported. They are one of the main drivers of regional development.
The Government amendment has many positive aspects. It recognises the great value of the aviation sector and its contribution to tourism and regional development.
There are a number of caveats or get out clauses in the amendment. There are phrases like when "circumstances" or "conditions" allow or "when the time is right to do so". I understand the need for prudent Government investment but I cannot support an amendment with so many possibilities of finding a way out. The motion we propose is straightforward and would protect regional airports and development.
I thank Deputy Michael McNamara for bringing forward this motion on State aviation policy as it affects regional development and regional airports. I was very happy to co-sign the motion and to have the opportunity to make some pertinent points about regional airports around the country. I particularly note the call on the Government "to revise Fáilte Ireland's objective to include attracting tourists to fly directly into the State’s regional airports", as this is vital.
We may not have a functioning railway system in my constituency of Donegal or fit-for-purpose public transport connections. Perhaps we do not even have proper roads. However, we have Donegal Airport, voted the most scenic airport in the world three years in a row by a PrivateFly survey, winning the accolade this year and in the previous two years. Beautiful Donegal Airport received more votes than scenic airports in destinations such as Tanzania, Greece, French Polynesia, the Seychelles and Fiji, to name just some of the top ten. Imagine if as much effort was put into marketing this spectacular part of the Wild Atlantic Way as is put into the west and southern parts.
Donegal Airport has been operational with a tarmac runway since 1986 but prior to this it was just a grass strip. It was the 1990s before the runway was extended and the permanent airport terminal buildings were built. There are just two scheduled airlines utilising this scenic airport in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, as well as private charter flights. Of course, there are also helicopters using the airport travelling to and from the offshore gas installations.
I note and welcome the planned investment in regional airports, which was brought to the Cabinet yesterday morning. However, of the €80 million funding package, just €6 million is to be allocated between Knock, Kerry and Donegal for operational supports.In 2019, there was a 4.3% increase in passengers going through Donegal Airport, with 48,000 passengers last year. Most of these would have been travelling between Donegal and Glasgow. From January to July 2020, there was a decrease of 61.27% in passengers through the airport, with just 8,405 using the services. Flights between Donegal and Glasgow ceased from 21 October and I hope they will be resumed by Loganair from April 2021. This means that numbers will remain far lower in 2021 again for the airport, which must be supported well.
The task force for aviation recovery presented its final report in July 2020. The key numbers outlined in the report showed the importance of the aviation sector to our island economy before the Covid-19 pandemic. The estimated GDP contribution of air transport to Ireland in 2018 was €8.9 billion and an estimated 140,000 jobs were supported by the sector. The estimated GDP contribution of foreign tourists was €8.7 billion and the number of overseas tourists arriving by air in 2018 was estimated to be 8.8 million.
The task force presented three sections encompassing 12 recommendations. One of those categories is "Rebuilding Regional and International Connectivity". Recommendation No. 6 states that for regional airports in Cork, Shannon, Donegal, Ireland West and Kerry, "a stimulus package should be put in place concurrently...to encourage the rebuilding of traffic". The task force recommended "a common fixed sum per passenger which will be used by the airports to stimulate traffic by reducing airport charges for airlines and restoring and growing passenger numbers to the regions". This proposed state aid would have to be notified to the EU Commission. From January to June 2020, Kerry Airport was down 67% in passenger numbers compared with the same time the previous year and Ireland West was down almost 24% on those numbers. Help is badly needed.
I cannot let the opportunity pass without mentioning the continued unacceptable use of Shannon Airport by US military aircraft. I welcome the end of the Trump Presidency but it would be remiss of me to not voice my concerns over our continued pandering to the US military by allowing it access to Shannon Airport. This makes a farce of the Government’s claims to be defending our neutrality. Our facilitation of US military use of Shannon in its ongoing criminality across the world is threatening our safety, not to mention undermining our obligations under international human rights laws. One can close one's eyes but it is a fact accepted by all that Shannon is being used to transit weapons and illegal rendition of detainees and prisoners of war, making us complicit in the atrocious war crimes of the United States.
Protests at Shannon Airport have been taking place since 2001 and a number of civil society groups and advocates of peace have been keeping public and political pressure against the US military stopping over in Shannon Airport. I have been a long supporter of those opposing this nefarious utilisation of Shannon and supported my colleagues, the MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, in their attempts to highlight this important matter over the years. The payments by the US military should not be used to offset the running costs of Shannon Airport.
The importance of our regional connectivity cannot be overstated, particularly in the context of the opportunities available to us in addressing climate breakdown. The aviation industry must play a major role in climate action and in working towards solutions for the contributions this industry makes to emissions. One would think with the Greens in the Government we would see the climate agenda more central to all policy decisions. However, typically what we are going to get is the usual unambitious and ill-defined targets that just pay lip service to our obligations. The Government is missing an opportunity to put regional airports at the forefront of innovation and sustainability and I fear the Minister will leave them high and dry.
I move amendment No. 3:
To delete all words after "Dail Eireann" and substitute the following: "notes that:
— the Programme for Government 'Our Shared Future' recognises the huge value of our aviation sector in supporting economic development, international connectivity and tourism via our airports;
— the aviation and tourism sectors are major contributors to Ireland’s economy;
— successive Government policies have recognised and supported this contribution and pointed, in particular, to Ireland’s reliance on international connectivity to secure its competitive position internationally;
— the development and growth of international connectivity is facilitated by ensuring competition in the aviation industry;
— under the Chicago Convention, Ireland has negotiated bilaterally with a wide range of States to agree market access rights for both passenger and cargo services;
— Ireland traditionally has a liberal aviation policy and the general policy in negotiating bilateral air services agreements is guided by free market principles, and we remain positively disposed towards approval of fifth freedom rights on a reciprocal basis in bilateral agreements;
— the Government has already made progress in implementing several recommendations of the Taskforce for Aviation Recovery Report, and the other recommendations, including further targeted financial supports to help reinstate connectivity, regional development and sustainability in the sector are being considered and developed as appropriate;
— regional connectivity and development remains a critical priority of this Government;
— given the impacts of Covid-19 on the Country’s regional State airports, Budget 2021 provided €10 million in capital funding to assist Cork and Shannon airports meet the challenges presented by Covid-19 and also confirmed a commitment of €21 million to the continuation of the regional airports programme to support Ireland West Airport Knock, Kerry and Donegal airports;
— in line with the ‘Resilience and Recovery 2020 – 2021: Plan for living with Covid-19’ and to ensure that testing arrangements for international travel does not impact on the Health Service Executive testing capacity, the Government will enable the State airports to provide additional private testing capacity;
— before the Covid-19 outbreak, the Department of Transport had commenced scoping work on a revised version of the full National Aviation Policy, however, the Covid- 19 crisis has fundamentally changed the aviation landscape; in this context, it is considered more appropriate to take a shorter term view to examine how the aviation sector and regional connectivity can be supported while air travel remains suppressed due to the virus and how assistance can be provided to the sector to recover once this eases, and a full National Aviation Policy will be revisited in the future once the Covid-19 recovery picture is clearer and that policy has the potential to add value once again;
— prior to Covid-19, regional airports received funding through Tourism Ireland’s Regional Cooperative Market Access Scheme - a co-operative marketing activity to encourage new access and maximise the potential of existing services to the regions; as a result of Covid-19 and restrictions on international travel, Tourism Ireland has suspended paid promotional activity for its Regional Cooperative Marketing Scheme in Ireland, and will consider the resumption of the Scheme and any further measures to support regional access on foot of the report of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce and in the context of the National Economic Plan; and
— the forthcoming National Economic Plan, to be concluded later this year, will provide for any further appropriate measures to safeguard strategic regional connectivity and the resilience of the aviation sector; and
notes the Government’s commitment to:
— the survival and recovery of the aviation sector when circumstances allow;
— maintaining Ireland’s core strategic connectivity as it is essential for us as an island for export businesses and for Foreign Direct Investment;
— creating conditions to encourage the development of new air routes, particularly to new and emerging markets, when conditions allow;
— ensuring a high level of competition among airlines and airports;
— ensuring that our State airports are well positioned for the recovery so that they have the capability to resume and regrow services at the right time and commits to considering any additional supports that may be necessary in this regard;
— ensuring the regulatory framework for aviation reflects best international practice;
— considering further targeted financial supports to help reinstate connectivity, promote regional development and sustainability in the aviation sector, which will feed into the Government’s further plans to aid broader economic recovery at the appropriate time, while being cognisant of prevailing public health advice;
— increasing and extending Ireland’s bilateral agreements with other States, with the ultimate objective of reaching agreement on the basis of fifth freedom rights on a reciprocal and non-discriminatory basis in terms of access to Irish airports (the limiting of fifth freedom rights to any particular airport in Ireland would most likely lead to a similar limitation in the other country market and this would not be in the national interest);
— develop a testing regime for passengers to and from both orange and red listed destinations in the European Union (EU), in order to fully implement the EU coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with all measures in place for red/grey regions in the EU European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control categorisation, including arriving passengers not being advised to restrict movements while undertaking an essential function, to be applied to arrivals from all other third countries; and
— implement the remaining recommendations contained in the Aviation Recovery Taskforce which are aimed at stimulating a return to growth in air travel when the time is right to do so."
I thank the Deputies for the opportunity to discuss this matter, particularly as it affects regional development and airports in the current context of dealing with the challenges of Covid-19 to the Irish aviation industry. Given the importance of aviation to all aspects of Irish society and the economy, I am pleased to discuss this motion.
In recent months there has been ongoing engagement with key stakeholders in the aviation industry and more recently participation by airlines, airports, those who contributed to the aviation task force, the European Commission, the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, and many others at the Oireachtas joint committee meetings. This engagement has provided an opportunity to outline the devastating impact of Covid-19 on our aviation industry, air concerns and suggest solutions.
It is clear from these engagements, contributions and discussions that we are all on the one page when it comes to the importance of aviation to Ireland. We are also in agreement that we want international air travel to resume safely as soon as possible and we want to see correct measures in place so the aviation industry can begin to plan and build towards a stable and sustainable recovery.
The Government has listened to those concerns. In recognition of the catastrophic impacts and unprecedented challenges faced by the industry in what is a global phenomenon, yesterday the Government approved an additional aviation support package of almost €50 million. Provision of this additional and significant Exchequer funding will further assist all our airports, including our regional airports at Knock, Kerry and Donegal, the regional State airports in Cork and Shannon, along with Dublin Airport, in meeting the challenges presented by Covid-19. This approval brings the sector-specific supports announced by the Government yesterday and in budget 2021 to approximately €80 million. This €80 million package is in addition to the horizontal supports introduced by the Government to help mitigate the effects of the crisis on our citizens and businesses, including grants, low-cost loans, waivers of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. The aviation industry in Ireland has availed of these economy-wide supports, notably the employment supports, waiver of commercial rates and deferred taxes. The value of these supports to the sector is in excess of €100 million.
The Deputies' motion refers to financial assistance for Cork and Shannon airports and for our other airports outside Dublin. In addition to the economy wide supports that Shannon and Cork airports availed of this year, Shannon Airport was allocated emergency funding of €6.1 million earlier this year to complete a vital hold baggage screening project, which is a safety and security requirement under EU regulations. Yesterday's announcement provides a further €21.5 million in supports for Cork and Shannon next year, which in addition to providing operational support for safety and security-related costs, will provide capital funding in addition to the €10 million announced in the budget. This will allow Cork to progress its runway reconstruction and Shannon to deliver important safety and security related projects and an apron rehabilitation. The Government has also agreed that a study will be undertaken to assess the potential for a light rail link from Shannon Airport and Shannon town to the Ennis to Limerick rail line.
With regard to our other regional airports, the Government confirmed a commitment of €21 million to the continuation of the regional airports programme to support Knock, Kerry and Donegal airports in budget 2021, with a further amount of €6 million announced yesterday to support these airports. I accept these are difficult times but it must be acknowledged that these are significant additional allocations in Exchequer funding.
The task force for aviation recovery was tasked with making recommendations for consideration by Government on what was needed to assist the aviation sector to recover from the Covid-19 crisis. The Government has already implemented several of its recommendations, including the publication of safe air travel protocols, a European slot rule waiver which is being progressed for airlines in consultation with the European Commission and the extension of the wage subsidy scheme to April 2021. The package approved yesterday by the Government also includes an airport charges rebate scheme, a task force recommendation which will have to be notified and approved under state aid rules. This scheme is being developed to support the retention of services through the winter season from January to March 2021. This further demonstrates the Government's commitment to safeguarding connectivity and will allow for the reinstatement of services.
The motion calls on the Government to prepare a new national aviation policy that recognises the importance of regional connectivity to balanced and more sustainable regional development but Ireland's current national aviation policy already recognises this. Its goals of enhancing Ireland's connectivity, fostering the growth of aviation enterprise and maximising the contribution of aviation to Ireland's sustainable economic growth and development remain valid. My Department has commenced scoping work on a revised national aviation policy. However, Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the aviation landscape and significant uncertainty remains on how long the pandemic will last and when aviation might return to pre-Covid levels. Therefore, in the shorter term we need to consider how the sector and regional activity can be supported while air travel remains suppressed due to the virus and how we can assist the sector to recover once this eases. I assure Deputies that the national aviation policy will be revisited in the future once the Covid-19 recovery picture is clear and that policy has the potential to add value once again.
The Government is clearly committed to balanced regional development. The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, recognises the enormous value of our aviation sector in supporting economic development, international connectivity and tourism via our airports. Revising Fáilte Ireland's objectives is not my area of responsibility but, having liaised with my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, and her Department, I assure Deputies that the Government's tourism policy statements and action plans recognise that Ireland's regional marketing brands like the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East provide compelling reasons for our best prospect overseas visitors to travel throughout the country and help us to achieve our longer-term targets. This recognition resulted in the establishment of the regional co-operative market access scheme which promotes air and sea access direct to Ireland's regional experience brands. It is administered by Tourism Ireland, with matching funding from airlines, sea carriers, airports, ports and regional tourism stakeholders including local authorities.
The tourism recovery task force was established earlier this year to prepare a tourism recovery plan to include recommendations on how best the Irish tourism sector can adapt and recover in the changed tourism environment as a result of Covid-19. The task force has completed its work and has identified the re-establishment of international access to Ireland as an immediate priority recommendation for the survival of the tourism sector here. Tourism Ireland will consider the resumption of the regional co-operative marketing scheme and any further measures to support regional access on foot of the report of the tourism recovery task force in the context of the national economic plan.
On international travel and testing at our airports, I can confirm that building on the decision to align to the EU traffic light system, the Government agreed yesterday that, from midnight on 29 November, passengers arriving from red locations will not be expected to follow the advice to restrict their movements following receipt of a negative result from a PCR test concluded at least five days after arrival. Such PCR tests can be obtained from private providers and will be paid for by the passenger. A number of private companies are providing Covid-19 tests so this measure will have no impact on the HSE testing system. In addition, the State airports are to establish additional private testing facilities at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports. This will facilitate pre-departure testing for travellers to other countries where the need arises. It will also facilitate post-arrival tests for persons arriving from red regions who may choose to return to the airport five days after arrival to take the test. Cork and Shannon Airports are expected to open facilities shortly and the facility at Dublin Airport is expected to be operational by 29 November.
The motion before the House also suggests that fifth freedom rights be limited to airlines using Shannon Airport. Under the Chicago convention, Ireland has negotiated bilaterally with a wide range of states to agree market access rights for both passenger and cargo services. Traditionally, Ireland has had a liberal aviation policy and the general policy on negotiating bilateral air services agreements is guided by free market principles. We remain positively disposed towards approval of fifth freedom rights on a reciprocal basis in bilateral agreements. I can confirm that the Government is committed to increasing and extending Ireland's bilateral agreements with other states. The ultimate objective would be to reach agreement on fifth freedom rights on a reciprocal and non-discriminatory basis in terms of access to Irish airports. The limiting of fifth freedom rights to any particular airport in Ireland would most likely lead to a similar limitation in the other country market which would not be in the national interest.
While I am happy to be able to advise Deputies of the substantial financial support package being made available to the sector, I am conscious that there are still challenges ahead for the industry. The question of when aviation business might be able to resume in a meaningful way is clearly linked to the evolution of the virus, ongoing travel restrictions, public health advice as well as the more general economic outlook. While there are many good points in the motion tabled by the Independent Group of Deputies, there is a failure to acknowledge actions taken by the Government to date. It is for this reason that I must reject the motion. That said, I appreciate the intent and the argument being made by Deputy McNamara. I agree that we need to think long term while also managing the immediate crisis. I am committed to doing that and to working with Deputy McNamara and others, particularly those who have a specific geographic interest in regional airports like Shannon Airport. We must sit down and put our thinking caps on and devise a strategy. Quite apart from the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 restrictions, we all know that there is an imbalance here. We are seeing enormous development on the east coast and far less elsewhere. We need to consider every tool to try to redress that imbalance for the good of the whole country. I commit to working with Deputy McNamara and others in that regard.
I thank Deputy McNamara for tabling this motion, to which I added my name in support. I have no difficulty with the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin but I also see great merit in the amendment tabled by Solidarity - People Before Profit. I am sure they will make their own arguments for it but I would ask Deputy McNamara to consider that amendment. I do not think there is anything objectionable in it. The amendment sets out the facts relating to the industry, particularly in the context of the challenges we face with regard to climate change, of which I am sure the Minister is very aware. I would urge the Deputy to look closely at that amendment.
I am not sure why the Government is not accepting the motion as it stands. It is pretty innocuous and straightforward. It calls for the implementation of the aviation recovery task force report's 12 recommendations. I will return to that task force later and its unbalanced gender representation. The motion also calls on the Government to prepare a new national aviation policy which is absolutely essential in the context of climate change challenges. I am not sure why the Minister would have any problem with that. The motion further calls for the development of a testing regime which the Government is currently actively examining. It also asks the Government to include Shannon and Cork Airports in financial assistance packages, with which the Minister has no difficulty, and to acknowledge Shannon Airport's traditional role as Ireland's transit airport. It also refers to reduced carbon emissions and again, I am not sure why the Minister would have a difficulty with any of that. I used the word innocuous earlier but I will take that back. There is nothing controversial in this motion. I can certainly see why the Minister might have a difficulty with the amendment proposed by Solidarity - People Before Profit, although I have no difficulty with it. I am not sure how any member of the Green Party could have a difficulty with it because we really need a sustainable aviation sector. Indeed, the task force makes reference to sustainability. I will return to that matter later.
The importance of regional airports cannot be overstressed. In Galway, we have no airport. I understood the reasons for the closure of the airport at the time. I did not object because I could see that the airport was in financial trouble and was not viable. Most importantly, it was argued that Shannon Airport was just down the road and would be the airport for the region. When Covid-19 struck, the stories from employees, including pilots and workers of various grades, of how badly they were treated were nothing short of shocking. That is captured in the amendment by Solidarity - People Before Profit.
The aviation recovery task force reported very quickly and it was very good under pressure. It held a number of meetings. Appendix 2, however, lists the 15 task force members, of whom three are women. It just brings home, in a stark way, our utter failure to have gender representation when important decisions are being made. I understand the task force was set up under pressure but the female membership is just three out of 15 on something as important as this.
I have no difficulty with any of the 12 recommendations of the task force and I acknowledge the assistance given by the Government to struggling companies under the wage subsidy scheme and all of the other packages that were made available. I acknowledge this openly. When we look at this in the context of Covid, and I have said this repeatedly, there is no going back. I am concerned that even with the task force, which I have no problem with, there is a mantra to return to where we were before Covid. I do not believe this will be possible. We cannot go back to where we were before Covid in anything. We must go forward in a completely different way and realise that the aviation sector was simply not sustainable. I imagine that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, would know this more than I do. We simply cannot go back at all. I worry about statements that say it will take a little time to go back to where we were.
One of the 12 recommendations is on sustainable development. It jumps off the page. It is in contradiction to going back to where we were. It is recommendation No. 6. Cork, Shannon, Donegal, Ireland West and Kerry airports are particularly picked out for a stimulus package because of their importance to the regions. I will leave that for the moment because I also want to look at the spending review. It was carried out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which makes some very interesting points. It says very clearly that regional airports cannot function without State support and that the provision of regional services would be extremely challenging without Government intervention. It is just a fact. We recognise this, but the intervention must be given in a sustainable way that maximises support for the maximum number of people. We need to develop outside of Dublin. Again, the Minister knows this. I am preaching to the converted. Not alone do we need to build up the five cities that are picked out, we need to do it in such a way that does not take from the rural areas. We need to build up towns and villages with connectivity. So, we come back to Galway and the west. We need a western rail corridor, to which I believe the Minister is committed. We need a feasibility study for light rail in the city so the city can function in a sustainable way, with a golden opportunity to be a green, lean city that is not developing at the expense of Conamara, Kilmaine or Shrule, but is developed along with them. Aviation comes into this because the nearest airport that we have is Shannon, and then Donegal but this is not connected by rail at all, as pointed out by my colleague, Deputy Pringle. We need to have an overall look at all of this. This is why we need a new aviation policy with sustainability at its core.
There are many interesting things in the spending review. Mayo has Ireland's largest regional airport with 23 destinations in nine different countries. In 2018 it had 772,000 passengers and more in 2019. This is more than double the figures for the next biggest regional airport. It has been a huge success and has done very well, but obviously it cannot do without public support. The review points out that there is relatively little data on passengers using all of the regional airports. This is despite the importance of the airports, despite the importance of connectivity and despite the amount of public money going into them. There is relatively little data on passengers using the regional airports. Ireland West Airport Knock distinguished itself by being better than that and it did surveys to find out exactly who was coming in and who was going out, where they were going and the purposes of their journeys. This is intimately connected and an integral part of Fáilte Ireland and tourism, so we can direct the money in a more targeted and efficient way.
I support my colleague, Deputy Pringle, on Shannon Airport. I support the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and the Green Party on a lot of issues but I really think this is a chance to make a difference for Shannon Airport. American soldiers going through the airport is just not acceptable. The protests have been happening for 20 years. I have not done it as often as I should have but I pay tribute to those who had the courage, determination and energy to go there every single month and stand up. They were demonised and given out about, but these are normal, rational people. They are more normal and rational than I, and I count myself as a pretty rational and pragmatic person. They stood out in every weather to say that this is utterly wrong and that we cannot use Shannon Airport to bring a war machine through it that is out to kill and maim people in other countries. I use this stark language deliberately to bring home what war does. When one considers war in relation to climate change it is the biggest problem and is the elephant in the room that we just simply ignore, like we ignore the aviation sector in the context of climate change because the sector is so important to us. If the Minister does nothing else - I will take that back, he is doing quite a lot - let us look at Shannon Airport, let us stand up and be counted and let us show a principled stand and not just for principle's sake but because it is wrong to have American soldiers going through our airport and off to kill, maim and murder in our name. It is now in our name because we are facilitating them. If we do nothing else let us do that.
I support the motion and I also support both amendments. I ask Deputy McNamara to look at the amendments. I know he has looked at one and I ask that he looks at the other. If we are seriously interested in a sustainable aviation industry then we must give serious consideration to the other amendments also.
I thank Deputy McNamara and the Independent Group for bringing forward this important motion. Sinn Féin is very happy to support the motion and has submitted an amendment to include the south east.
The aviation recovery task force report, published earlier this year, highlighted the huge value of aviation to the Irish economy. Air transport contributes an estimated €8.9 billion to our GDP and supports in the region of 140,000 jobs across the State.
I, like many of my colleagues, have been in contact with a huge number of constituents who work across this sector and who have been particularly affected by the pandemic and resulting restrictions. These workers range from pilots and cabin crew to airport workers, ground crew, travel agents and other workers who depend on the aviation industry. To a man and woman they have faced real difficulty this year, with little to no work and a huge drop in incomes, putting real pressure on their personal finances. They understand the impact the pandemic has had on international travel but their demand of the Government is fair and reasonable. They want the Government to do all it can to protect their jobs and prepare for the resumption of foreign travel when it is safe to do so.
I have consistently expressed my concern that thelaissez-faire approach from the Government was risking the permanent loss of thousands of jobs and the loss of key strategic routes. The shambolic implementation of the green list system, in addition to the point-blank refusal to have airport testing since the beginning of the pandemic, exemplified this.
We have heard from the airports' representatives at the transport committee that it takes years of work to secure routes and once they are lost, they are very difficult to get back. Our international airports are crucially important for attracting investment and tourism to the regions and are key to balanced regional development. We cannot allow important routes to Britain and the US especially to lapse during this pandemic.
I very much welcome the additional funding announced by the Minister yesterday for airports around the State, but this was only one aspect of the recommendations of the aviation recovery task force report and much more work is needed. Recommendation No. 3 of the task force report was for a comprehensive test, track and trace system and despite repeated calls we still do not have this. On track and trace, according to figures I have received, 82% of people who complete the passenger locator form do not get a follow-up call.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the requirement for arrivals to restrict movements for 14 days is not being followed in many cases and empirical evidence from the summer confirms this.
On testing, I have been asking both this and the previous Government to put a testing system in place since before the summer. I am glad the Government eventually conceded to this fundamental principle but it took far too long and the system is still not in place. The delay is inexplicable, as is the delay in conducting our own comparative analysis of Covid assay and testing technologies, such as looking at polymerase chain reaction, PCR, testing versus loop-mediated isothermal amplification, LAMP, testing versus rapid antigen. That should have been done months ago. While we all hope a vaccine will be the key to defeating the virus, that is still just a hope and with the best will in the world it will take considerable time to be administered so a robust testing and tracing system will be needed well into 2021. If it is done right, it can help restart the aviation sector and help tens of thousands of people across the industry get back to work in a safe way. We should rigorously and proactively pursue the option of pre-departure testing with rapid testing technology.
The Sunday Business Post reported this weekend that the Government is examining subsidising key air routes through a public service obligation. I ask the Minister to provide clarity on that report and outline what routes are under consideration.
I welcome this motion on the aviation sector and its essential strategic importance but I reiterate that the future of the aviation sector cannot be built on the back of exploiting loyal workers. Newspaper headlines stated that workers were struggling to afford to feed their children. They were hovering above the poverty line due to the way the TWSS and EWSS were implemented. I know that to be the case and it is shameful. Similarly, thousands of customers are still waiting for refunds and vouchers. Many more lost out altogether as ghost planes left without them but with their money. Travel agents were affected in the same way. This is absolutely disgraceful from airline companies and it has not gone unnoticed.
The Minister spoke about the need to think long term. If we are to think long term about this we, and he as the relevant Minister, should reflect on the fact that none of our regional airports, or indeed the airport in our capital city, has a railway station, a light rail link or any other form of rail link. That is something we need to address because while connectivity is important, so is connectivity from the airports into other areas essential for tourism and so on. The Minister knows this but if we are going to be thinking long term, that is what we need to be thinking about.
I take this opportunity to raise an issue relating to Aer Lingus with the Minister. I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this motion and for the opportunity to speak on it today. The issue in Aer Lingus has now moved on from the company simply refusing to sign forms. I am sure the Minister will be familiar with this matter because it has been raised many times by me and others. The problem now sits with his Cabinet colleague, the Fine Gael Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Heather Humphreys. Hundreds of Aer Lingus workers are seeking the retrospective entitlement to short-term working supports for the period from March to August, during which the company was in receipt of the TWSS. It was getting that money at that time. It is now nearly nine months on and these people and their families are in crisis. The failure of the Minister's Cabinet colleague to address this issue has left families on the absolute brink. They are not just hovering above the poverty line but are dipping below it in many instances. These are people who have worked hard for Aer Lingus. They have long service in many cases and they have now exhausted their savings. Any money they had in the bank is now gone because they have had to use it to support themselves to live. They have maxed out any credit that might be available or any small loans that might be available from their families. They need this retrospective entitlement, to which they have a right, and they need this done now. I ask the Minister to talk to his Cabinet colleague and ask her to instruct the Intreo offices to grant these workers their entitlement. They have an entitlement to short-term working support and they are not looking for anything over and above that. Their lives are falling apart at the moment, through no fault of their own. They have given good and loyal service to the company. There is a global pandemic and they fully recognise the reasons they are not in work, but they need to live and they have an entitlement to this short-term working nine months on. It cannot be too much to ask that we address this issue. I urge the Minister to ask his Cabinet colleague, the Fine Gael Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to instruct her officials to give the workers in Aer Lingus their entitlement and due.
I welcome this motion. It is timely and valuable. I have been raising concerns about Cork Airport for several months now and the Minister has said that he will happily sit down with anyone to discuss them. I would certainly take up that opportunity because there are many issues regarding Cork Airport and transport in Cork generally that I would like to discuss with him.
There are about 2,200 jobs directly relying on Cork Airport but about 10,000 jobs rely on it indirectly with suppliers, baggage handlers and different things like that. Some of those jobs are gone and I am afraid that in many instances they may not return. Many more of those jobs are on ice. The point Deputy O'Reilly makes is quite right. Workers are on the bread line, are within an ace of poverty and are at the pin of their collars because of the mishandling of the EWSS and the fact that money that was owed to them - and still is as far as I am concerned - has been withheld. I urge the Minister to raise this issue with his Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Social Protection. The industry as a whole is under severe pressure but the supports that have been given to other parts of the economy have not been received in their totality by these workers in Aer Lingus.
Cork Airport is a key driver for the region and Project Ireland 2040 repeatedly refers to Cork being the fastest growing city in the State. That is the right objective and is an important counterbalance to Dublin but it cannot happen without a viable international airport. The fact is that the airport is facing a bleak situation at the minute. Ryanair flights have stopped for the next few weeks, there is no certainty of when they will restart and the threat of Aer Lingus removing its regional base is still there. Cork and Shannon airports are in a particular situation because they do not have the same support from public service obligations as other regional airports, although those airports could also do with more in that regard, and do not have the scale of traffic or the capital status that Dublin Airport has. A very particular strategy is needed for Cork and Shannon airports.
I welcome the additional funds that have been provided but we must go further than that. It will only be a stay of execution unless we get the fundamental structural stuff right and testing is a central part of that. We need to get that right. There are still very severe threats facing Cork Airport in terms of when the Ryanair flights will return and the regional base for Aer Lingus. The first priority must be the jobs of all those who are employed in Cork Airport or rely on it for their employment. After that, crucially, we must focus on its role for the region. We know we will not get back to anything like what we had before in the next few months or in the next year but even after this is over, Cork will need a viable international airport and the region will need a viable international airport and connectivity.
I thank the Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. Along with my colleagues, I offer my support for what we deem a very important motion, which is specifically relevant to my home county of Clare. I am contacted every day by people who are concerned, affected, impacted and devastated by the lack of timely action and reassurance for Shannon Airport. As an example, no testing is being done at our airports today. Ireland's aviation sector has suffered immensely over the last eight months due to the onset of Covid-19. We are all aware of that. The number of flights in and out of the country has been reduced by up to 95% and passenger numbers at Shannon Airport were down by 91% for the month of September. On the ground, people are saying that this reflects the same old politics where we speak about balance but it has not been prioritised. These people paint a picture of doom and gloom and argue that Shannon Airport has received blow after blow. In recent weeks, Ryanair and Aer Lingus decided to cut their operations from Shannon and Cork airports for the coming weeks to save costs.
This places hundreds of direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs in jeopardy. People are saying that this is due to the Government's lack of action on and commitment to Shannon Airport and, therefore, its lack of confidence in the airport. The uncertainty that has been created and allowed to stagnate has left Shannon Airport the wide open to these blows. It is not appreciated and will not be forgotten.
Since my election to this House, I have raised the plight of Shannon Airport numerous times. I have made countless statements, met a number of staff and contacted the Minister on dozens of occasions, yet here we are in the same position, still debating the issue and calling for more action to be taken. While we welcome the recent announcement of more funding, we have seen task forces set up and reports compiled and published but their recommendations have not been enacted. We have heard the Minister announce there would be a review and we are still waiting to hear the findings of that review. The Minister has created inertia when it comes to Shannon Airport. He has left people with bills to pay in stress and under pressure. Answers need to be given. There is no need to leave big questions hanging over their heads.
I welcome the announcement of the financial support package and I look forward to having the opportunity to analyse the detail of it in the coming days. I thank Deputy McNamara and the Independent Group for tabling this motion, which we will support. I hope they will take cognisance of the amendments. I also welcome that the Government is looking at approaches to air travel that are more in line with those of other countries in the European Union. The support package needs to ensure the workers are protected, thousands of jobs are maintained and the airports remain viable in the future.
It will be no surprise to the Minister of State that I want to talk about Knock Airport. The history of the airport was one of questions and doubt and the same narrow form of thinking that holds back regional development today. Despite many reservations, the airport had 100,000 passengers three years after it opened in 1998 and 500,000 passengers by 2005. This year, we were looking forward to having 1 million passengers but instead we have had 145,000 because of Covid-19. I commend the management and staff of Knock Airport on all that they have done and the continuous work they do. I acknowledge the 43 redundancies that had to be made because of Covid-19 and the 100 staff who have been temporarily laid off.
We need to ensure progress is maintained and built upon. As the Minister of State is aware, Knock Airport serves a population of 1.2 million and one quarter of the land mass of the country. It is one of the most underserved regions in the country in terms of connectivity. I know the Minister of State realises the importance of the airport in terms of the connectivity of the west. The western regional rail corridor is vital to link up with Knock Airport. Can anyone imagine the west without the presence of the vibrant Knock Airport?
The model is excellent in terms of the equity shareholding by the seven local authorities and the development of the strategic development zone. However, we need a vibrant airport, not least to bring in Joe Biden when he comes back to visit his relatives. Knock Airport now needs a functioning test and trace system for passengers arriving before Christmas to ensure that family and friends can return home safely. Airports, regional airports in particular, need the Government to deliver on testing. It is common sense that testing, which has proven effective in many other countries, is needed at Knock Airport. The aviation task force report must also be implemented in full. We know what we need to do but we need to do it urgently. We must acknowledge it because we cannot once again talk about regional development without talking about the progress, development and support of Knock Airport.
I thank the Independent Group for introducing this important motion. Since I was elected to the House in February, I have been raising the issue of Shannon Airport. In light of Covid, I have been raising it as often as possible. I have met employees, trade union representatives, stakeholders and the Shannon Group. There have been debates and questions in the Dáil and we feel like we are in a loop. Specific answers must be given on what is to be done with Shannon Airport.
I cannot stress enough to the Minister of State how important the airport is to our region. Some 15,000 jobs are directly dependent and 45,000 or 46,000 jobs are indirectly dependent on Shannon Airport. It is very important to ensure the future of the airport is protected because it serves not only Limerick city but the whole mid-west region. As Deputy Connolly stated, people from Galway and all over the region use the airport.
I welcome the Minister's commitment to provide additional funding for the aviation industry in 2021. It has been obvious for some time that Government funding would be needed and it is good to see the Minister recognise this. The Government press release on the matter stated it was an acknowledgement of the challenges facing the aviation industry. These challenges have been widely known for some time. In fact, the recommendations made in the final report of the task force for aviation recovery were submitted on 12 July 2020. Four months have passed since then, winter flights have been suspended, jobs have been lost and the whole region's development has been threatened. While yesterday's news is, therefore, to be welcomed, it would have been much more welcome earlier in the year. The Government has not got to grips swiftly enough with the aviation crisis. Actions that should have been taken months ago are only being taken now. Criticism of Government policy, or lack thereof, has been made not only by the Opposition; it has been made constantly by the major airlines and stakeholders for months. It is now time for the aviation task force recommendations to be implemented in full. If they are not, the aviation industry and, by extension, the economic development of the region will be put at risk.
I support the aim of the motion to recognise that transatlantic flights from Shannon Airport can be operated with a reduced carbon footprint per passenger than those operating from Dublin. The Minister spoke about looking to the future. I welcome the commitment to spur lines. I ask the Minister to provide specifics on how a spur line could be developed between the Limerick-Galway railway line and Shannon Airport. As the Minister knows, the train from Galway to Limerick passes through many areas of Limerick city where stations could be added. I recommend diverting every second bus from Cork to Galway to Shannon Airport. We need to look at ways of supporting the airport to ensure this vital infrastructure, on which the economy of the mid-west region depends, gets the support it needs. I do not believe the Minister has acted swiftly enough to date. People's jobs are under pressure and they are stressed out.
I thank the Independent Group for tabling this motion, in particular, Deputy McNamara who is the lead on it. From working with the Deputy when we were members of the same party some years ago and again this year on the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, I am aware of his commitment to Shannon Airport and his desire for it to return to a sustainable and healthy state. This has been consistent throughout his political career and this motion is another example of that. Deputy McNamara acknowledged my presence in the Chamber at the start of the debate, perhaps expecting that, as a representative of Dublin Fingal, I would offer a full-throated defence of the DAA or Dublin Airport versus Shannon Airport. He will not get that today. Obviously, I want Dublin Airport to return to a sustainable state, its workers to be protected and the airport to thrive. However, I also want the regional airports in Shannon, Cork, Kerry, Donegal and Knock to be on a sustainable footing and to thrive, and for the workers there to be protected. This should not be a Dublin versus the regions debate and I do not think that is the case. This is about supporting our regional airports and having a strategy that will ensure these airports thrive and the jobs in them are sustained. That is why the Labour Party is supporting the motion. While there are a couple of elements that we do not fully support, they are not nearly sufficient to cause us not to support the motion because the thrust of it is exactly where we need to go with our regional airports.
On fifth freedom flights, many flights to Ireland have been cancelled. For example, Cathay Pacific, one of the fifth freedom carriers, has said it will not return to Ireland in 2021, and it will be 2022 before it does so. American Airlines has cancelled its winter schedule for the first time in ten years and it will have no flights to Ireland. I would be concerned if we imposed further limits on fifth freedom flights at this stage given that the aviation industry is on the floor.
That is something that could be teased out and worked on because there is no reason Shannon cannot benefit from fifth freedom flights as well.
In respect of the argument about what is more climate-friendly, flights into Shannon or flights into Dublin, etc., there is a global debate on the impact of the aviation industry on climate and carbon emissions in which Ireland will play a small but important part. This is something we need to put energy behind once we get the industry back on a sustainable footing.
This important motion has been brought forward at a vital time. We have been talking about all the regional airports throughout this crisis. Deputy McNamara mentioned phone calls he had with the Austrian embassy in May about airport testing. We are only just announcing airport testing this week so we have taken a long time to get to this point despite arguments from me, other Members in the Chamber and those who are not here that we needed a testing regime.
What we have is a small step. I welcome it but I have a few concerns. I know the testing is being provided by a private company. I understand that our public health system is under stress - we are still in level 5 - so I will absorb that for the time being. However, the cost of these private tests is pretty prohibitive. I was looking at a couple of providers. We are talking about between €100 and €200 for an arrivals test. I listened to the Government representative on "Morning Ireland" earlier. My concern is that the Government will want people returning home during December to comply with public health regulations out of a sense of civic duty. That is fair enough. We all want that but the reality is that an awful lot of the people who will be returning from abroad are in low-paid work abroad. Essential workers from abroad who will, hopefully, be taking advantage of affordable flights will genuinely be put off getting a test on arrival for price reasons. That will be the reality. Cost cannot become an inhibitor to getting a test and the Government may need to look at that. If it means subsidising tests for people arriving in December, that could be done pretty easily. I do not think the cost would be exorbitant. If people arriving say, understandably, that they cannot afford to pay €189 for a test and will take their chances, there will be natural pressure to meet up with family and friends whom they will not have seen for a year - hopefully, we will have moved to level 3 - and that could be a problem. That said, we are here. We have a testing regime that is getting off the ground and I support that.
The Solidarity-People Before Profit amendment was mentioned before the Minister of State entered the Chamber and it will be mentioned later. This amendment concerns how the workers in the airports have been treated. Again, I highlight Aer Lingus workers. The reason we are highlighting this is that they have identified an entitlement they have to retrospective pay for short-time work for the period during which Aer Lingus was in receipt of the temporary wage subsidy scheme. We are talking about the period up to 31 August. There is no legislative barrier to the workers getting that entitlement. There is an administrative barrier. Many of us have raised this in the Dáil and last week during questions on promised legislation. It comes up every week. These workers are on the bread line. As my constituency colleague said, they are actually below the poverty line. This entitlement cannot be allowed to time out. That would be a denial of an entitlement. It would be disgraceful if we allowed this to time out so I ask the Minister of State to bring this issue back to the Minister for Social Protection. That would be most welcome.
To get back to the substance of this motion, this has been a good debate. There are more speakers to come and I am sure they will bring further energy and arguments about why this is an important motion. I thank Deputy McNamara for bringing it forward. We want to see Shannon and Cork airports sustain themselves and thrive. We want to see the airports in Kerry, Donegal and Knock thrive. There is a debate to be had about carbon emissions from the aviation industry. This will be a global argument but there are other elements to climate change. It is not just about aviation. That is for another day. I thank the proposers of the motion.
I also thank the group of Independent Deputies for bringing forward this motion. First and foremost, I am very supportive of balanced regional development but balancing regional development is multi-faceted and airports constitute an important component of that. It is self-evident that as an island nation, we must maintain our connectivity. That is even more important in the context of Brexit. The investment yesterday is important. We have been waiting for it for a considerable period of time and it is very welcome but it is far from what will be required to put the airports on a sustainable footing.
I do not think any part of the country has been unaffected by the aviation sector. The footprint of an airport is much wider than the immediate area. I was surprised by the number of airport employees in my constituency. North Kildare is not that far from the airport but the dominant group will be in very close proximity. According to the aviation recovery task force, a total of 140,000 jobs are supported by the aviation sector, of which 40,000 involve direct employment by the sector. The estimated contribution of air transport to GDP was €8.9 billion while the estimated contribution of foreign tourists to GDP was €8.7 billion. That was very noticeable after the economic crash post 2008. The tourism sector was key to recovery. That sector is essential and the aviation sector is an essential component of it. It is not all about tourism because, clearly, a lot of commercial activity occurs as a result of an airport being in close proximity. I remember when Intel set up in the 1980s, one of the key reasons it picked a particular location was that it would be in reasonably close proximity to an international airport. It is the kind of thing that demonstrates why companies locate where they do. There is real importance in making sure there is balance.
Regarding test, trace and isolate, we have seen in the past few days the adoption of the framework involving the traffic light system. This framework involves Europe but the domestic application of that is the important component and will require a proper test, trace and isolate system. Something in the region of 400,000 Covid locater forms were submitted between 1 September and 30 October. We know that Christmas is a key time when people travel and we are routinely contacted by people wondering whether members of their families will be able to return home not having seen them since last Christmas. People are looking for some degree of certainty. When it is possible to give that certainty, it is important that the arrangements around that are very clear. The use of locater forms as a mechanism to control people coming into the country is insufficient.
There has to be a domestic arrangement in order that we can be sure we will not trade off one sector against others or against the health of the population. We have to hear from the Minister of State as a matter of urgency as to what is the plan. A plan was due this week. We will have to see that and be told about how long it will take to put it fully in place. Announcing a plan is one thing, delivering it is quite another. The aviation sector is one of the most, if not the most, impacted upon because of the Covid-19 pandemic and we have no degree of certainty as to when the crisis will be over. Managing risks, therefore, will be a key component in our response.
I wish to speak in support of the amendment tabled by Solidarity-People Before Profit in respect of Aer Lingus employees, the wage subsidy scheme and the way that has been handled. There is a real issue here and every one of us is trying to stress the importance of resolving it as quickly as possible. There has to be fair play for the individuals who were affected by this.
It is important to examine how we provide tests and the quality of the tests that are provided. There cannot be a deviation in standards. Whatever systems are put in place, they have to be systems that we can absolutely rely on. I am concerned about what has been announced and about the absence of clarity on what domestic arrangements will be put in place. The question of who pays for these tests is important because this may well end up being an investment. Just as when one looks at regional airports and the amount of money that is put in in the form of a subsidy, one cannot look at that alone. One must look at the return. There is a much wider return than the investment in the airport. Connectivity adds value. It has to be considered in the wider context of the value that is being added if we are really going to get an understanding of the value of these regional airports.
I wish to speak to the amendment put forward by Solidarity-People Before Profit. We tabled it because the motion does not adequately address the issues in aviation and the impacts the crisis is having on workers and on climate change. On at least four occasions in recent weeks, representatives from the aviation industry have appeared before either the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response or the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks. I have repeatedly heard their demands for increased state aid and for the relaxation of the public health guidelines. I have also been repeatedly told how safe airline travel is in the midst of a pandemic.
We know that since the crisis began there has been huge hardship for workers in the aviation industry, with massive job lay-offs, forced redundancies, pay cuts, reduced hours and the wholesale tearing up of contracts, rights and conditions. It has been galling in the extreme to know that the companies and CEOs loudly proclaiming their concern for workers are the same ones that are simultaneously putting the boot into them. The contempt these companies have shown is breathtaking. I will give two examples. The concern of Aer Lingus management for the company's workers could not even extend to filling out simple social welfare forms in a timely fashion. This left many of them without any income for weeks. Meanwhile, Ryanair has to date used the crisis to force many staff to sign new contracts and has sacked at least eight trade union activists across its European operation. Another company has been reported to have implemented similar pay cuts, selective redundancies, etc.
As a result of this, I take the attitude of the CEOs and management of these companies with a large pinch of salt when they demand further state aid and help for their industry and workers. Their demand seems to be that we should get back to normal and that we should not make too much of the public health situation. These very companies, which posted billions of euro in profits just last year, did not display any initiative or take any action in the context of setting up rapid testing at airports. We are told that we may have such testing soon, ten months into the crisis. It is incredible that only now are we doing what many other states and regions have been doing in the context of rapid testing.
We cannot look to a model for aviation that simply says we should get back to normal, expand airports, build more runways and get people flying. The elephant in the room is climate change and that changes everything. We need an aviation industry and connectivity, both as an island nation and regionally, but looking for a model of the free market and competition between dozens of airlines based on never-ending expansion is lunacy. It is not sustainable and will not deliver in the long term for secure employment or for health and safety. Such a model cannot be supported as we accelerate into a worsening climate crisis. We cannot somehow use clever accountancy trickery to ignore greenhouse gas emissions from aviation as if they does not reach the atmosphere in the same way as CO2. This is why the idea of a just transition becomes so important and why the treatment by this and other Governments of the Bord na Móna workers is so alarming. Just transition is what is needed for the aviation industry and we must see the role of the State as being paramount to that.
I am alarmed that the State has seen it fit to appoint as the CEO of the Irish Aviation Authority a former CEO of Ryanair. It is like making the poacher the gamekeeper and I would like to ask the Minister of State to address that. Why has the State appointed, as head of an authority that is supposed to oversee the health and safety of the industry and consumer rights, put the former CEO of Ryanair, which does not have a great reputation on either count, in as the head of the authority. I leave the Minister of State with that question.
I want to speak about working conditions at our airports because right around the world, the airline industry and airports are using the pandemic to tear up workers' contracts and their terms and conditions. Unfortunately, it is no different in Ireland.
The workers I am most familiar with are the DAA workers. They have been faced with a semi-State company which has used the coronavirus to attempt to impose the document known as New Ways of Working. That means significant changes to peoples' rosters. It means so-called interoperability or, in other words, an ending of demarcation and a slashing of the number of staff. This is about a drive to reduce the amount of permanent, unionised and reasonably well-paid jobs and to replace them with agency and contract staff. It is illustrated clearly in how the maintenance staff in particular have been treated. They make the point that the amount of work they have to do does not change with the amount of passengers who are coming through the airport. If a lift needs to be fixed because there are two passengers in it or because there are 200 or 2,000 passengers in it, it needs to be fixed. The same goes for escalators, the runways and everything else. They are often the first responders to an emergency situation.
Those workers have bravely stood up to the bullying of management and to the threats which have been implemented to put them down to a 60% week and spread that week over five days so that the workers cannot claim jobseekers allowance for the days they are not working. They overwhelmingly rejected these proposals. I support those workers who are resisting these attacks. I urge them to continue in their resistance, to stand united, to now allow themselves to be divided and to defend and demand decent terms, conditions and wages for all workers.
When news broke of a breakthrough on the vaccine front, the share values of the airlines rose the following day on the New York Stock Exchange. International airlines increased in value. The group that owns Aer Lingus was up 39%, Easyjet was up 30% and Ryanair was up 16%. There is a long way to go and it is only light at the end of the tunnel but we have begun to see improvements for shareholders so when will we see improvements for workers?
There has been cold cruelty shown to Aer Lingus workers in this State in recent months. They were reduced to 30% of their former pay and the short time working payments to which they are entitled were blocked, first by the company and now by the State.
A worker on the pandemic unemployment payment received €350 a week but Aer Lingus workers whose short-term working payments were being blocked were in some cases on as little as €317 per fortnight, meaning that school uniforms could not be bought and rent could not be paid. Petrol could barely be bought to get to work. The workers' mental health was kicked around the room like a football by a management that wanted them to quit without redundancy or except drastic changes to working conditions. There has been ongoing State collusion in this regard. Why the hell has the Minister not sent an instruction to the Intreo offices stating the money to which the workers have been entitled from March should be paid immediately instead of forcing them to jump through loophole after loophole?
With the news on the vaccine and with the industry beginning to look to the future, the old agenda of privatisation and a race to the bottom must go. We need a new agenda based on not-for-profit connectivity and workers' rights. This will be debated quite a lot in this House in the coming weeks and months. We will put these issues, including the re-nationalisation of our national airline, Aer Lingus, on the agenda.
I compliment Deputy Michael McNamara on putting together this motion. It is important for the region in question. I live outside Tuam, within 55 minutes of Ireland West Airport Knock and 45 minutes of Shannon Airport. Connectivity is, therefore, important to me. If Galway East, including Tuam, is to develop, we need to have proper connectivity with the outside world.
Back in 2007 and 2008, there was a crisis in Shannon Airport because Aer Lingus was proposing to transfer the Heathrow Airport routes to other airports. At the time, the cathaoirligh of Galway County Council and other councils along the western seaboard met to mount a campaign to retain the Heathrow hub in Shannon. It was successful. Today, the airports face a major problem again. Shannon and Knock airports, which are in my area, and Kerry and Donegal airports, all of which are in the Atlantic corridor region, are under severe pressure.
I welcome the fact that funding was announced yesterday. I believe it was probably on foot of the motion tabled by Deputy McNamara and ourselves. It is important to acknowledge that funding is coming but we need to consider the broader issues pertaining to regional development. We now have an opportunity in the west to prepare a plan to ensure procedures are in place to develop. It is important that immediate action be taken on the airports. Short-term measures include help to meet the regulatory requirements that must be met if the airports are to remain open. We need State support to facilitate pilots in keeping their licences up to date. We need to re-engage the aviation recovery task force to create concrete proposals on an all-Ireland aviation policy emphasising regionality. The task force could consider similar successful strategies in other jurisdictions.
We need to build on the Atlantic economic corridor task force, whose purpose is to create a strategy and make recommendations to the Government on maximising the potential of the region. This task force would include industry experts in addition to Department experts and would be given three months in which to submit its report to the Government. We should develop a traffic light system for countries outside the EU, for example, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, to provide clarity to our diaspora on travelling home for Christmas.
Looking to the medium term, it is important that we consider policy on air access. It should be linked to, and consistent with, tourism and enterprise policy objectives, especially those concerning Fáilte Ireland. We need a more integrated network to determine how we can leverage growth across the entire nation. We need to investigate and actively support growth opportunities in the regional airports in respect of aviation-related business such as aircraft maintenance, logistics, freight handling and storage, pilot and aviation-related training, and aviation leasing. With our third level institutions across the region, we have an opportunity to put in place programmes to train people for the aviation industry.
Having examined the Atlantic economic corridor, which stretches from Donegal to Kerry and includes 12 counties, I believe there is an opportunity for us to develop a strategy for our airports, ports and rail network right across the region. Across the world, we see airports at which we can hop straight onto a train and go directly to the city, town or region. Ireland West Airport Knock and Shannon Airport need a connection to the western rail corridor. This is how we have to plan for the future and for the green economy, which involves taking people out of cars and putting them onto public transport. It is great to talk about it but we need to put the infrastructure in place. The two airports I have referred to are key components in the delivery of regional development.
When we talk about regional airports, it is important that we regard them as a gateways to the regions for tourists such that they will not all have to come through Dublin Airport and from there meander by bus around the country or parts of it. It is important that we teach people who are selling Ireland that tourists can land in Shannon Airport, Cork Airport or Ireland West Airport Knock, with Donegal and Kerry airports providing back-up. It is important that we do this in a way that looks towards the future rather than today or tomorrow. We must plan and have a vision for the next 25, 30 or 40 years.
We all talk about regional development. While there is a major crisis in the airports, we should grasp the nettle and solve this problem now. If we do, by making the airports the centres of our business and the hubs from which we fan out, and if we connect to the urban centres of Galway, Sligo, Limerick, Cork and Athlone, we will create a network whereby tourists and businesspeople can all access the regions.
An article in one of the newspapers today refers to the number of people working remotely now and how many are seeking to move to the regions. This trend presents an opportunity for us to make sure that when the people come, they will have the broadband, road and rail networks and connectivity they require. By doing this, we will attract the best of people and we will be able to set up industries at the cutting edge of technology in the region.
The Minister knows well that we also have an opportunity to create a major offshore wind energy business. We need to build this into our strategy on the Atlantic economic corridor. We should set out the Atlantic economic corridor as a strategic region and ensure it gets preferential treatment so that it will benefit from the regional development it requires.
I thank Deputy Michael McNamara and all the Independents for tabling this motion. I welcome the state aid.
Cork Airport is worth €1 billion to the local economy, an amount that represents 95% of their business. That business is gone this year, leaving places such as Kinsale, Clonakilty and west towards Mizen Head badly affected. The airport needs the cash injection. Airlines have been cutting flights. Some have asked how Aer Lingus and others have been treating their staff. I asked serious questions at the Covid committee about that. Someone was meant to get back to me, but no one ever did.
I have been calling for rapid testing at airports for seven or eight months. The Tánaiste, who was then the Taoiseach, told me that it would cost too much. It has cost our economy much more by not having it. It will be in place now, but it is months too late. This has been unfair on the airlines and those businesses that depend on them. I was not listened to at the time.
I thank Deputies Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins for sharing their time with me. Since Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is not present, I will share my time with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.
I thank Deputy McNamara for tabling this timely motion. Deputies have stated that this is not a fight between Dublin Airport and the rest of the country's airports, but it is. Pre-Covid, 33 million people travelled through Dublin Airport, 1.8 million through Shannon Airport and 2.3 million through Cork Airport. There are also Knock, Galway and Kerry airports. Dispersing a percentage of Dublin's traffic is the only way we will make our airports sustainable. Some 60,000 people are depending on Shannon Airport - 15,000 directly, 45,000 indirectly. If Dublin Airport wants to expand, a percentage of those travelling through it must be dispersed to the other airports. We would then not have to prop up the other airports year in and year out. They are unsustainable currently because everything is being shoved into Dublin.
The green agenda is in the programme for Government, but the airways of Dublin are being poisoned because of the traffic of 33 million people. The overall number should be broken down. How many people who fly into Dublin come down to Clare, Limerick and beyond into Kerry for their holidays? The Government goes on about the environment, but we all have a green agenda and the Government is closing the other airports and poisoning people in Dublin. The Green Party is responsible for this situation and can change it. Disperse 20% of Dublin Airport's 33 million travellers to the other airports. That would bring Shannon and Cork airports to 3.5 million each and all the other airports to sustainable levels. Stop poisoning the airways in Dublin and putting all traffic into Dublin. Doing so would free up our motorways. One cannot get into or out of Dublin.
There is a major problem in Shannon. The Government can fix it by telling Dublin Airport that it cannot expand unless 20% of its traffic goes to other airports. In that way, all of our airports would be sustainable.
What has the Government got that the Independents do not? Just like the Government, we have legal people, teachers and so on, but we also number self-employed people who know how to run a business. If the Government listens to the Independents, we might be able to teach it something about how to make all businesses in Ireland sustainable.
I am glad for this opportunity and thank Deputy McNamara for tabling this important motion. Money has been announced for regional airports. I hope that Kerry Airport, which is under the stewardship of Mr. John Mulhern and his staff, most of whom are not working currently, gets a fair cut of this money.
Shannon Airport is on its knees. It has been a transatlantic airport for many years, but that has been greatly reduced as a result of the cancelling of the compulsory stopover. Previously, Deputies and Governments knew the benefit of the compulsory stopover. Since it was taken away, all air traffic has gone to Dublin. This has happened at the direction of Fáilte Ireland, which is not selling Shannon Airport properly. We now hear that a third terminal is to be built in Dublin. As has been pointed out, it will not even be good for Dublin. This is unfair. All that we in the west and rural Ireland - places like Kerry, Limerick, Clare and Cork - want is a fair cut. We are not selfish, but it is like modern Governments and Dublin Deputies are focused on Dublin and Dublin only.
I have been calling for testing at airports since the start. Where is the quarantining that was meant to be done by people travelling from other countries? It has not been happening. We are putting people in rural Ireland under pressure. The other day, we were told by Dr. Holohan that there would be no drinking in pubs this Christmas. That is a kind of dictatorship, yet at the same time we will open up air travel without knowing what effect doing so will have on people around the country.
I am calling for connectivity for the people of Kerry and the western counties. It is only right that we get a fair cut and that the people of rural Ireland get a fair deal. They have not been getting one in recent times. Even before the coronavirus, Shannon Airport was on its knees and Kerry Airport had been struggling. Fáilte Ireland has not been selling our regional airports at all. Cork Airport is another airport that is vital to the people of Kerry. All we want is a fair cut, but we have not been getting one from this or recent Governments.
I thank Deputies for their valuable contributions to this important discussion. The importance of the aviation industry in terms of its contribution to Ireland's GDP, foreign direct investment, FDI, and job creation cannot be understated. Aviation plays this vital role in facilitating economic growth, but on a human level it also links different cultures and peoples.
The national aviation policy, Project Ireland 2040 and the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future recognise the significant importance and value of the aviation sector in supporting economic development, international connectivity and tourism via all of our airports. When the time is appropriate and the national aviation policy is being updated, the importance of regional connectivity to a balanced and more sustainable regional development in a post Covid-19 context will be reaffirmed.
The current crisis in aviation is the worst we have ever witnessed. It is an industry that tends to be extra sensitive to economic cycles and prone to shocks. This crisis has far outweighed the challenges of previous shocks such as the global financial crisis ten years ago and the aftermath of 9-11 ten years before that. I am conscious that companies have had to take difficult decisions to address their cost bases and seek to safeguard their liquidity. As part of those cost-cutting measures, many people have taken pay cuts, been temporarily laid off and, in a number of regrettable cases, lost their jobs.
In recognition of the devastating impacts of Covid-19, the Government has put in place a range of measures to help our citizens and all sectors of the economy, including the aviation sector. The Government acted early in the Covid crisis and introduced unprecedented wage supports and other measures to assist businesses. Airlines, airports and others in the aviation sector are rightly availing of these substantial Government supports. In addition to these measures and in recognition of the contribution made by aviation to society and the economy here, I have advised that the Government agreed a revised funding package of almost €80 million for the Irish aviation sector yesterday. These measures are a clear indication of its commitment to ensuring that the aviation sector can maintain the necessary core capability to retain strategic connectivity and to regrow when possible.
While forecasts across the airline sector do not anticipate global capacity returning to 2019 levels before 2023 or 2024, we had some welcome positive news earlier this week. We learned of encouraging early results from phase 3 trials of a vaccine announced by Pfizer. However, the National Public Health Emergency Team has advised that while this is a good first step, it is not time yet for celebration. People need to continue to stick to the basic public health measures. The news does, however, offer hope to the aviation industry. Stock markets throughout the world have reacted positively.
The Government will continue to do what it can to help the aviation industry. We have implemented the EU traffic light system, including ensuring the provision of testing as an alleviation for the requirement to restrict movement on arrival into Ireland in certain circumstances. A framework is now in place for people travelling from the green, red and orange regions of Europe. There are several Covid-19 testing technologies currently available or emerging on the commercial market. Importantly, though, testing provision under Ireland's framework for international travel will not be provided through the public health system but rather will be met by the private commercial sector testing supply on a user-pays basis. All of these measures have been put in place to ensure that the aviation industry will be in the best possible shape when air travel returns to some kind of normality. I am confident that it will, given time.
I have listened closely to all the contributions made this morning. I assure Deputies that I am committed to ensuring that we can maintain strategic connectivity and the viability of our airports so that the sector is well positioned to return once again to being a key driver of the economy and to help facilitate a wider economic recovery. This position is reflected in the countermotion I have put forward.
I compliment Deputy McNamara on putting forward this well-put-together motion. Not only does it affect my backyard, it also covers all the regional airports. I met Joe Gilmore and Mary Considine to discuss the struggle going on at the moment. The Minister of State, in fairness to her, has met them too. I welcome the announcement yesterday. The motion could not be better timed. It puts pressure on the Government to deliver and I compliment Deputy McNamara on that.
One point is that while it is clear the moneys for Cork and Shannon are not subject to EU approval, the €6 million for what we call Knock Airport or Ireland West Airport Knock, as well as the airports in Donegal and Kerry, seems to be subject to EU approval. My understanding was that this was not required under Covid and that we could give aid to our local airports. The one thing we do not want is a situation where an announcement is made and then we learn about the over-and-back with the paperwork and that some person in Brussels has not given us the go-ahead. We do not want people to have their tongues out trying to keep the airports from going broke. The Department has made an announcement but has not delivered the money. I appeal to the Minister of State to clarify the position. I appeal to her to send the details to me, if possible, in respect of EU approval. I call on her to indicate when Ireland West Airport Knock, Kerry Airport and Donegal Airport will get their money. I encourage her to ensure that the cheques for all the airports, including Shannon and Cork, are sent out now. It is no good leaving them with their tongues out waiting for money. The situation needs to be clarified.
Another thing we need to look at is the broader picture of where we are going with airports and the land around airports. There is a significant opportunity with the likes of Ireland West Airport Knock for hangars to be put in. Governments should be prepared to take risks. This is about taking risk. It is about the western arc that goes from Cork to Donegal. We talk about areas and look at the statistics and figures. The likes of Covid has hit those areas harder than the likes of Dublin.
We have to realise that the statistics coming out on RTÉ suggesting that Fáilte Ireland got so many tourists into the country - the figures referred to an increase of 5%, 15% or 20% - do not stack up anymore. If we are to maintain balanced regional development and keep jobs in all parts of our country, then we have to ensure that Fáilte Ireland can give us other statistics. We do not want the data on the one-day trip in a Paddywagon down the country. We want to know where tourists stayed for the week or two of their holidays and the airports through which they entered the country. The facilities for American flights to come to Shannon are in place. The facilities are in place for many other flights to come into the likes of the airports in Knock and Cork. We have to ensure that certain percentages are put on Fáilte Ireland to deliver. We need not give the authority a clap on the back for getting so many people into the country. We need to ensure that certain percentages are brought in. We need to ensure that all our areas benefit, including Dublin. No one has anything against Dublin. We need to ensure that the industry is viable and that we give to business people and tourists the alternative to fly into local airports.
The press release yesterday referred to rail links. I know the TEN-T programme funded a project going from Foynes into Limerick and on to Shannon. We should have the western arc connected to include Galway city, Limerick city, Cork city, Kerry, including Killarney, as well as Donegal and Sligo. We have links there that do not put pressure on trying to keep housing in Dublin or put pressure on people who are renting and all the different parts of it. This is not about them and us. If we have a vision for our country, it should be to treat all our citizens equally and ensure that we give the right to earn a living in Galway, Limerick, Dublin or wherever. I call on the Minister of State to do that. The one thing I want to hear back on is my question in respect of state aid. Why has it been stated that we are waiting on Europe's approval?
I thank my colleagues in the Independent Group and those across the other Independent groups for their support with this motion. I have already dealt with the Sinn Féin amendment, which I have no problem accepting.
I wish to look in particular at the Government's countermotion and the speech by the Minister for Transport. I simply cannot accept the countermotion because it is a thing of nothing. It notes the Government's commitment to the survival and recovery of the aviation sector when circumstances allow and refers to consideration of the aviation recovery task force recommendations when the time is right. Government frequently comes up with meaningless words. These are indeed those meaningless words.
I welcome the concrete actions the Government announced yesterday. The Minister took issue with our failure to acknowledge actions on the part of the Government. I wish to point out that this motion was tabled on Friday. The Government announced its actions yesterday. I have no doubt that they were in response to the motion. I graciously acknowledged and welcomed those actions in my introductory remarks. To suggest that we are not acknowledging the Government's actions is untrue.
Perhaps the Government might also acknowledge that it brought forward those actions in response to this motion. Regardless of the reasons, I welcome them.
I would, though, look at two announcements in particular. The first is the announcement of €6 million for operational costs for the regional airports, which is quite important but is subject to EU approval. Is this a delaying tactic or is EU approval actually required? My understanding was that state aid rules had been suspended for the duration of Covid-19. If that is the case, why is the Government going to the Commission for approval? Is it merely to delay the funding? Second, there have been previous Government announcements on aviation, Shannon Airport and in particular Shannon Group that have not lived up to the Government's billing.
I acknowledge the People Before Profit amendment. I do not accept it simply because it removes all the content of our motion. If the amendment were an addition to the motion, I would accept it. I acknowledge how badly the airlines, in particular Aer Lingus, have treated their workers. Aer Lingus seems to have a policy of not telling anybody what is happening at Shannon Airport. That is somewhat strange when it comes to its passengers, but the passengers can go to Dublin Airport. That may well be what Aer Lingus wants to achieve by this, but it is appalling when it comes to its workers and the manner in which the company has treated its workers in Shannon Airport. They are the workers I have met. I have no reason to believe that its workers are being treated any better in the other airports.
I welcome the support of Deputy Duncan Smith and the Labour Party for the motion. As he said, this is not a matter of Dublin versus the rest; it is about a balanced aviation policy. I, too, want to see Dublin Airport return to profitability and a situation in which everybody who works in Dublin Airport is treated fairly, as are the workers in other airports. I also thank Deputy Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats for her support and acknowledge what she said - a footprint is much wider than an immediate airport. That is the basis of this motion.
The Minister, Deputy Ryan, said he would meet people who have a particular geographical interest in this. I pointed out at the beginning that I have an airport in my constituency, as do others, but many Independents who put their names to the motion do not have airports in their constituencies but recognise how important the aviation sector is to our tourism industry and how interlinked they are with FDI right across the western seaboard. The Central Bank, as I pointed out, has released a report stating that the western seaboard is disproportionately affected by the measures the Government has taken in response to Covid-19. I accept that Covid-19 has posed a significant challenge to aviation right across the world, but it has been exacerbated by how the Government has dealt with this.
Finally, the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, talked about foreign direct investment. We spend a lot of money in Ireland trying to attract such investment into the country, and rightly so, but we spend no money looking at developing routes to regional airports which underpin FDI in the regions. We know from studies in the mid-west, the west and across the country that FDI is underpinned by connectivity, so that connectivity is essential to attracting this investment. We spend money on attracting it but not on supporting it. Connectivity is the single biggest attraction.
For these reasons, I urge the House to support the motion.