Seanad debates

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

5:00 pm

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I value the opportunity to raise this issue in the House. I declare an interest in that I am an airline passenger at times. We are approaching Christmas and have recently finished the summer period during which many people travel regularly. Often it takes more than one flight to reach one's destination. I raise this evening the need for the Minister for Transport to outline the position regarding the ability to carry liquids purchased in airport shops on flights as hand luggage when travel involves more than one flight and whether there is a single rule worldwide.

I accept that bringing liquids on board represented a terrorism threat following the events of 11 September 2001. I ask whether this is being tightened or loosened internationally at this point. Whichever we intend doing, in the interest of people who use airlines, we need clarity on what can and cannot be done. I will give two examples. I was in New Zealand two years ago and on my way back I was planning to buy some make-up, which was liquid. I asked the woman in the New Zealand duty-free shop whether it would be taken from me during a two-hour stopover in America. She could not confirm whether that would happen, but stated that her guess was that it would be taken from me. I did not buy it and I observed when we reached America that nobody had anything confiscated. It was a pity I had not bought it.

When returning from Cape Verde via Lisbon recently, I purchased goods from the duty-free shop. I had been told on many occasions that there would be no problem provided the package was sealed at the duty-free shop with the receipt attached by staple. As my onward flight was with a different airline I was required to leave and subsequently return to the security-controlled area in Lisbon. When I went back in to that area I was told I could not carry a container of liquids greater than 100 ml even though it was in a sealed duty-free shop bag with the receipt attached. When I questioned it further I was told I could go back and check it in as hold luggage, but I could not take it as hand luggage as this was not a secure state under the Schengen Agreement. Does the average tourist need to be an expert in law and know what countries are covered by that agreement and whether the rules for those countries are the same everywhere? I return to my simple example of travel to Australia or New Zealand involving transiting through another country.

There must be clarity surrounding the procedure into the future regarding the carrying of liquids, be they alcohol, perfume or make-up. I accept that may be where we are going. It is not good enough that a customs officer can decide that he or she will take products from people after they have been paid for. The officers may suggest challenging the airport that sold the products or indicate that persons should have looked on a website to discover if they were eligible to transit products through.

I do not expect the Minister of State tonight to be able to say Ireland will solve all this. If there is not already a clear procedure, there should be a concerted effort at European and worldwide level to clarify procedures. That would ensure the airlines are operating from the same concepts, principles and criteria. As many now book their flight on the Internet, there should be encouragement for different airlines to put information in place as to what is allowed in this respect.

If a transit passenger carries a boarding pass and thinks that after going through security in New Zealand he or she is through security in America, that person should know if he or she is allowed to buy duty free products in New Zealand or elsewhere. At the moment, whether a person is a transit passenger within the system or, as in my second example, a transit passenger without a boarding pass who must go out and come back through the security system, there should be no difference to the passenger just because no agreement exists between the airlines. Criteria may indicate the duty free product should be maintained in a sealed bag with a receipt and has clearly not been tampered with but the third criteria of whether the country is within the Schengen Agreement seems to be another issue to grapple with.

I ask that a single policy be implemented across the world. I do not expect the Minister of State to be able to give me that commitment but we should move towards it. It might not be a significant issue for any individual but it annoys people when they spend money but are not able to take the products home. Clarity would yield great results. I do not believe people intend to be terrorists when they go away on holidays or a business trip and try to take make-up or perfume home. It is not a personal issue but an example of what can happen with the level of travel worldwide.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I understand Senator Keaveney's desire for clarity and a single worldwide policy but I am not sure my reply will help in that respect.

In August 2006 the UK authorities raised the levels of security at UK airports following intelligence reports suggesting an imminent terrorist attack involving the use of liquid explosives to blow up aircraft. Subsequently the European Commission held a number of meetings to examine options for additional aviation security measures to deter such a threat and concluded that it was necessary to restrict the carriage of liquids and gels. The EU adopted security rules for passengers and their hand luggage, which came into force in November 2006 at all airports in the European Union. The rules restrict the amount of liquids and gels that passengers can take through security screening checkpoints. They apply to all passengers departing from airports in the EU whatever their destination.

Only very small quantities of liquids and gels may be brought through passenger screening points at EU airports. Exemptions exist for larger quantities in respect of medicines, special diet products and baby foods if essential for use during the trip. These rules mean that at security screening checkpoints, passengers and their hand luggage must be checked for liquids and gels in addition to existing prohibited articles.

Exemptions may be granted for passengers if the liquids are obtained at another community airport on condition that the liquid is packed in a bag that is both tamper evident and displays satisfactory proof of purchase at airside at that airport on that day. This exemption permits a passenger to take duty-free liquids bought after the screening point and carry as hand luggage on an additional flight, including a return trip, provided the items are still in the sealed bags, untouched, together with proof of purchase; the additional journey is still the same day; and a screener is satisfied that the purchase was made airside at another EU airport.

A review of the application of the regulation showed that the restrictions on liquids carried by passengers arriving on flights from countries outside the EU and transferring at EU airports created certain operational difficulties at these airports and caused inconvenience to the passengers concerned. To address these concerns, discussions have taken place between the EU and other countries to provide for similar exemptions for liquids in tamper evident bags purchased in non-EU airports.

To date, exemptions have been made for Singapore Airport and airports in Croatia following agreements reached with those countries and confirmation that similar security standards applied at their airports. This allows a person travelling from Singapore to purchase duty-free at that airport and transfer at Heathrow for a flight to Dublin without the liquid being confiscated at the screening point in Heathrow. An agreement between the US and the EC, which would provide for a similar exemption for flights between EU and US airports, is expected to be agreed before the end of the year. Discussions are ongoing with other third countries for the application of similar exemptions.

The threat from liquid explosives and, in particular, the current limitations on the ability to detect them has been recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO. The European Commission and member states are working hard with ICAO and its contracting states to find solutions so as to enable liquids to be carried freely again. In this context, Ireland has always supported a proportionate response to the threat of liquid explosives and will continue to do so in discussions at international fora.

The restrictions on the carriage of liquids will continue as long as this threat exists and until the necessary technology is put in place to detect explosives in liquids. Discussions are ongoing at EU level and with industry to develop technological solutions to this problem, and this would involve the installation of new screening technology at all airports to scan liquids. While this is likely to take some time, Ireland will continue to support the objective of removing constraints on passengers taking liquids on board aircraft.

I can only seek extra clarification in regard to the particular journeys spoken about by the Senator. I thank Senator Keaveney for raising the matter.

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister. Often people travel during the night and once they get to the second airport, there is a problem when they thought the procedure was clear. Clarity within Europe is important in that a product must be in a sealed bag and there must be a receipt. The difficulty is when people travel outside Europe and do not know that the same rules are not applicable.

Until such time as the exemptions are removed, there should be some effort by the Department of Transport to get the information to travellers. One of the best possible ways is through the Internet, as people can get it when booking flights, or through travel agents. There should be a line stating that if a traveller is going to a certain destination, he or she will not be able to transport liquids. When one gets to the airport, it seems nobody can tell for sure and it is a lottery as to whether a person will be successful in getting products through.

I thank the Minister of State for his response, which was more helpful than he realises. He is now more aware of what I was asking about. Perhaps he will come back on a future date with some more information on the airports we will have agreements with in future. I am concerned with the information issued to potential customers.