Tuesday, 5 October 2021
Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020: Committee Stage
I wish to comment on this section, in the context of the articles of association and the appointment by the Minister. It is important that in the overarching debate we have and will have on aviation policy, that there is a reflection on the composition of the board of the Dublin Airport Authority and that there would be a recognition and an acknowledgement that there are airports beyond Dublin. I make this point in the context of what we are trying to achieve in this Bill. There is an absolute need for somebody from the regions to be on the Dublin Airport Authority. I will give an example. There is nobody on the Dublin Airport Authority from Cork.
That is correct. One may argue the point and say that I am being very parochial and I take the point in the spirit that it is being made by Senator Boylan, but I am making this point. I have every confidence in the Dublin Airport Authority and great respect and admiration for its chief executive, Dalton Philips. However, I am of the view that the second busiest airport in the country is Cork Airport. Pre-Covid-19, the growth in passenger numbers in Cork Airport was better than in Dublin and was exponential.
The Cathaoirleach may say that I perhaps have a second-city syndrome and am parochial but I cannot comprehend how there is nobody from Cork on the board of the Dublin Airport Authority. Such a person does not have to be from Cork but to represent, advocate and articulate on behalf of Cork within the DAA. To be fair, the policy within the DAA is quite positive towards Cork but Members might agree with me that in the functioning of an authority, it is better to have representation from regions beyond Dublin in the case of this authority.
I make the point to the Minister of State that this section, and what the Government is trying to achieve with it, is quite good. I have full confidence not just in the Minister of State, but in the ability to appoint people. If one looks at the context of the Bill, it is in consultation with recognised trade unions, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and there is a willingness to engage and to be more broadminded in terms of inclusivity. I am only making this comment and I thank the Cathaoirleach for indulging me on it. I see the Clerk looking at me and saying that I am straying beyond the realms of the Bill, and I genuinely appreciate and thank them for that. I have only one chance to represent Cork and I do that in the context of aviation policy with the overarching view of what we are trying to achieve with the Bill, which is that we must be inclusive and representative of the region beyond Dublin. I say that because our aviation policy, as I said on the Order of Business previously and in a Commencement matter today, is absolutely critical to our recovery from Covid-19. I will discuss air traffic controllers again and I hope that the Minister of State understands the spirit in which this contribution is made. It is not necessarily about this part of the Bill but I wish to put on record that the board of the DAA must reflect Ireland, which means that Cork must be included as well.
I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach. I find myself in the unusual position that I want to agree fully with my colleague. There should be representation from Munster, Galway or Connacht on any airport authority. We need to have a national view, and all laughing and joking aside, I totally agree with Senator Buttimer on this point. He has been advocating for this for some time now and I ask that the Minister of State take this point on board and have discussions with the DAA on this matter to ensure that we have a good distribution of board members on that authority. I will not delay any longer on that point and I thank the House.
I thank the Acting Chairman and I will continue on the same point raised by Senator Buttimer.I compliment Senator Buttimer. He has been an advocate on this issue for many years. It is about proper and sustainable regional development and how we can appropriately have that happen in the regions. Senator Buttimer speaks sense. He is very involved in the aviation industry, he sits on the transport committee and he has a great knowledge of this issue. The regional dynamic must be looked at when it comes to the DAA. If anything, Cork Airport needs that base and link person. At the moment, we seem to be running rudderless at times, unfortunately. An awful lot of good work is happening at Cork Airport, and Senator Buttimer has always been first to come out and champion the good causes there, but a change at DAA level would be very appropriate. It is something we could work on that would be very helpful to everyone.
I will keep it very brief because I agree with the previous three speakers. I also remind them that there is another city, Galway, and another province, Connacht. I am glad the Minister of State present in the House this evening is from Galway. As I said previously about the aviation industry, Connacht regional airport is what I call the second miracle of Knock. Most people outside the region thought it would not work, but what a success it is. It has been a major success and it is very important to the development of the west of Ireland. Certainly, on the issue of the DAA, it is very important, as other speakers have said, that the whole area is represented.
I might respond very briefly. Senators have raised the issue of membership of the DAA and, although the Bill does not set DAA membership, I take their comments on board. Section 17 sets the membership of AirNav. Its text is repeated from the existing Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993 - as it currently applies to the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, it will now apply to the proposed Irish Air Navigation Service, IANS. The section deals with the articles of association of the IANS.
On regional connectivity and regional airports, I reiterate that it is a priority of the Government that we support the regions. We have shown that. The policy on regional airports has been influenced by the need to optimise the conditions of regional development and connectivity. Our airports are critical in facilitating that international access. The Government is acutely aware of how the regions have suffered during this crisis. That is why we have put in place targeted measures for the regions. For that reason, approximately 78% of a budget of €80 million in 2021 is being targeted at regional airports, with Cork and Shannon airports receiving approximately 43% of that overall budget. Balanced regional development is at the heart of the programme for Government and we recognise that all parts of Ireland have to prosper. I take the individual Senators' points on board.
The issue of appointments is a bugbear of mine and I know Senator Craughwell will agree with me. In this case, it is about Members of the Oireachtas and Members of the European Parliament. If a member of a local authority is considered for an appointment, he or she should not be overlooked just because he or she is a member of a local authority. In other legislation, we have precluded members of local authorities from certain positions. I very much welcome, if I am correct, that they are not precluded in this legislation. I understand Members of the Oireachtas and Members of the European Parliament are precluded, but I hope that we can allow members of local authorities who have expertise or experience in aviation, or in aspects of the aviation industry, to become part of its development. That is why it is important we welcome the appointment of iar-Sheanadóir Pádraig Ó Céidigh as chair of the Shannon board. It was a great appointment and the Minister of State is to be congratulated on it because this is a man who has the practical lived experience and was a Member of this House. He will bring his ability as an entrepreneur, along with his ability as a parliamentarian, to the position he now holds. That was a tremendous appointment and I wholeheartedly congratulate the Minister of State on that.
I am straying off-kilter a little, but we need to stop precluding members of local authorities, or parliamentarians, from becoming members of boards. Many of us in this House, of all political parties and none, have a major depth of knowledge and experience in a myriad of areas, but because we are parliamentarians or local authority members there is, in some cases, an attitude of "thou shalt not be appointed", which is wrong. I understand where it is coming from but I will put on record that we need to stop looking at practising politicians as being just "the politician". We come, in all of our individuality and totality, with a variety of qualifications and interests that should not mean we are precluded from appointment to boards or to different areas of expertise.
I support what the Senator has said. It is a different thing entirely to take an Oireachtas Member and exclude him or her from board membership. That is probably right because legislation, etc., comes through both Houses. Local authority members, however, bring a wealth of experience and local knowledge to a board. That is something the Minister of State should look at over time.
Members of local authorities are not precluded from this. This is text repeated from the existing Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993 as it currently applies to the IAA and will now apply to the IANS. This section provides that a director of the IANS, or a subsidiary, who is elected to political office, either at national or European level, will cease to be a director. Similarly, an employee will be considered seconded until his or her political position ceases. The period of secondment for such an employee is not reckonable for pension purposes.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 40, after line 37, to insert the following:
"Amendment of Act of 1993 - Licence Holders Forum
59. The Act of 1993 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 14: "Licence Holders Forum
14A.(1) The Irish Aviation Authority shall establish a standing body to serve as the collective statutory collaborative and consultative forum in relation to air safety and its regulation between the Irish Aviation Authority and persons or bodies that it licenses or authorises who are active in commercial aviation, to be known as the Licence Holders Forum.(2) Without prejudice to subsections (6) and (7), the Licence Holders Forum shall meet at least twice per annum at which the Irish Aviation Authority shall be represented by its Chief Executive and be accompanied by such other staff of the Irish Aviation Authority as necessary. Secretariat services shall be provided to it by the Irish Aviation Authority.
(3) Each of the following may appoint one representative on the Licence Holders Forum:(a) any air carrier holding an Air Carrier Operating Licence issued under Regulation (EC) No. 1008/2008;(4) The Licence Holders Forum shall also comprise such other representatives of stakeholders in aviation safety as determined jointly by the representative of the Irish Aviation Authority and those persons appointed pursuant to subsection (3).
(b) any recognised trade union or recognised stakeholder group representing 50 or more persons authorised to hold a commercial pilot’s licence or an airline transport pilot’s licence;
(c) any recognised trade union or recognised stakeholder group representing 50 or more persons licenced or authorised by the Irish Aviation Authority other than holders of commercial pilot licences or airline transport pilot licences. Where the particular class of licensed person is less than 50, then 50 per cent of their actual number by function shall suffice.
(5) The Licence Holders Forum shall adopt its own procedures including arrangements with respect to the promotion of candour and the treatment of confidential information.
(6) The Irish Aviation Authority shall consult the Licence Holders Forum at least 28 days in advance in relation to the following:(a) its proposal of a draft statement of strategy pursuant to section 29A(1),(7) The Irish Aviation Authority shall keep the Licence Holders Forum informed in relation to the following matters:
(b) its submission to the Minister of any report pursuant to section 32(1) or 32(2),
(c) its submission to the Minister of an aviation safety performance statement in accordance with section 32A(1),
(d) the adoption of a State Plan for Aviation Safety in accordance with Article 8 of Regulation (EU) 2018/1139,
(e) the making of a decision pursuant to section 36,
(f) in respect of its adoption of any implementing measures (including orders pursuant to section 58) to give effect to any domestic, European Union, or international law requirement concerning or relating to authorisation or licensing, and
(g) all proposed or requested initiatives concerning the authorisation of licencing of personnel or carriers.(a) the Irish Aviation Authority’s fulfilment of its regulatory performance plan as an element of its aviation safety performance plan,(8) Each representative on the Licence Holders Forum may propose for discussion anything in relation to—
(b) the implementation and operation of the Licence Holders Charter adopted under section 14B,
(c) any concern of any representative as to technical or safety standards for aircraft or air navigation or anything affecting or likely to affect the safety of civil aviation, and
(d) any guidance, clarifications, or direction issued under the Charter adopted under section 14B.(a) the licensing of persons or carriers involved in civil aviation, 2
(b) safety concerns associated with any licence or authorisation issued by the Irish Aviation Authority, and
(c) any issue concerning the safety of aircraft or air operations, whether or not regulated or subject to the oversight of the Irish Aviation Authority.”.”.
Amendment No. 1 proposes an amendment to the 1993 Act to provide for the establishment by the IAA of a standing body, to be known as the licence holders forum, which will meet at least twice a year and will provide a statutory basis for consultation and collaboration between licence holders and the IAA. The Minister and the IAA have written recently to the Irish Air Line Pilots Association, IALPA, stating that their new strategy will provide for a licence holders forum. While I do not question the bona fides of the board and current management of the IAA in this regard, there are great benefits to stating it explicitly in the law.This is because of concerns that there is an existing culture of exclusion in the IAA which may exclude representative bodies including IALPA from participating in this forum. I would like the Minister of State's assurance that she will accept mine and Sinn Féin's amendments to the Bill to ensure that this is not allowed to happen. I would share the concerns of IALPA members that the big airline companies have the clout to influence the IAA into excluding representative bodies and trade unions from being part of the consultative and stakeholders forum. Given the vital nature of input from pilots, particularly relating to safety and regulation, we should depend on organisational culture of goodwill to ensure this. With safety as a key priority all this should be nailed down as explicitly as possible.
I made these amendments available to the office of the Minister of State and I had hoped we could have sat down and discussed them in advance of the Committee Stage. However, IAA has not covered itself in glory in recent times. Members who sit on the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications constantly receive emails about problems with the IAA, which is of great concern to me. There is also a historical background to the clout that the major carriers in this country have and the way pilots have been treated down through the years. We have so many pilots who are on contract in these major carriers. What IALPA is looking for here, and I make no apology for representing IALPA's views today, is that there would be certainty underpinned by legislation for its members when it comes to difficulties with the organisations they work for.
I will move on to the second amendment, which proposes the drawing up of a licenceholders' charter. While I welcome and acknowledge the recent commitment by the IAA to develop a licenceholders' charter, this also needs to be placed on a statutory footing. The key features of the charter would be a system of authorisation and licensing that is operated in an integrated and transparent manner, consistent with the protection of safety. I am aware of the existing facility for licenceholders to report on safety concerns directly to the IAA but experience tells us that the response mechanism is not fast nor as consistent as it should be. In addition while the IAA encourages pilots to raise safety matters through their airline, this can pose serious employer-employee relation issues for pilots who may be perceived as being critical of their employing airline, with sometimes serious consequences. It is essential that the reporting process is placed on a statutory footing. Nothing relating to airline safety should be left to chance, goodwill, or best intentions. These amendments are also cognisant of the just culture requirements of Regulation (EU) No. 376/2014.
This morning I spent a considerable length of time reading the interim report of Rescue 116. One thing I found in that is that there is a culture within the airline industry in this country where people are afraid to come forward with issues. That is simply not good enough. We are talking about the people who carry 300 and 400 people and sometimes more on an aluminium tube to wherever they want to go. These pilots must have their own forum, and the ability to take matters of concern to them forward. After all, the airline has one licence to operate, while the pilot himself or herself has another licence to fly. If there is a conflict between the views of both, then it should be open to somebody to adjudicate on that. It should be that the pilot can access the adjudication process without going through the employer.
I have great concerns about the licensing issues that I have brought up here today. I would ask the Minister of State, even at this late stage, to accept the amendments we have tabled. They are being proposed by the experts in the area, the pilots themselves. They are the people who are asking for this. We should not always let the big airlines have their say, and that is really what is happening here from what I can see, and it is the way the legislation is read. We should not be afraid to bring in legislation that might call one of these big carriers to heel every now and then, and that would not be a bad thing. I ask the Minister of State to consider that, and I await her response.
To echo what Senator Craughwell said, we are bringing forward these amendments in good faith because we broadly welcome the legislation but we think these would enhance what the Minister of State has brought forward. They are not big asks but they are exceptionally important asks. The first one, of course, is the licenceholders' forum. Despite the commitments from the IAA that its new strategy will provide for a licenceholders' forum, its actions suggest otherwise and would give cause for concern and demonstrate that there is still a policy and a culture of exclusion that is deeply ingrained.
Recently, there was a safety and technical workshop to discuss the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on the industry and IALPA was excluded from that forum. The only way we can break that deeply ingrained culture of exclusion is to ensure that the solutions are not always about the cheapest option or what is in the commercial interest of the airline, and to underpin the right of licenceholders in either the legislation or in the regulations.
Unfortunately, we in this country have a long history of light touch regulation and self regulation and we are living with the legacy of it, and we have seen people's houses crumbling as a result of light touch regulation. I cannot see where the issue is with ensuring that licenceholders have the right to be represented at those fora being underpinned in the legislation.
The same applies to the charter. This amendment also seeks to set out how the IAA should interact with licenceholders, pilots, engineers and cabin crew and it would copper-fasten that relationship. When I met with representatives from IALPA it was deeply concerning to hear their experience of how they interact with the IAA. When they raise issues of concern and of safety, they are normally advised that they should go through their airline, which completely ignores the asymmetrical power relationship of employer and employee. Sometimes they do not get a response from the IAA, or sometimes it takes six months to get a response. They do not know how high a priority that response is going to get or whether anybody is investigating it. On many occasions they are left completely in the dark.
This was in contrast to the UK regulator. In one particular instance, they went to both regulators. They had a response from the UK regulator instantaneously outlining what the regulation was and what the next steps should be, whereas it took six months to get a vague response from the Irish regulator. The charter and the forum must be underpinned by the legislation which would set out very clearly when the regulator should respond to any reports made to it, how quickly it should respond and outlining how seriously it is taking those reports and that the licenceholder can go directly to the regulator without going through the airline.
Those of us who are members of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications have received a number of emails. You may not have had knowledge that the culture within the IAA was not good. However, when you investigate and speak to people, you become cognisant of it. To be fair, that is not the fault of the Minister of State. I do not necessarily think that the amendment put forward is the right approach but proactive engagement is critical. I am not sure if I am allowed to mention people but our committee asked that Kieran Mulvey be brought in as a mediator and negotiator because the culture there is not good.When a Minister engages, people listen. It is the power of the office and officeholder. I have met members of the Irish Air Traffic Control Association, IATCA, because I received a surprising volume of emails from them. Those I met were mild-mannered, considerate, conscientious and professional. Having been involved in many organisations and having been a former shop steward, I am a hardened individual but I was struck by the level of upset. I was also struck by the people’s concern for one another as colleagues. These people were coming into work to do their job, which involved watching the monitor and the airspace. Before the meeting, I did not understand the volume of work and its intensity. Considering that the staff have a responsibility to guide aircraft and maintain safe airspace, one cannot but be struck by their sincerity and genuineness.
The Minister of State might have a different view because there are always two sides to every argument, but my understanding is that Fórsa, on behalf of IATCA, is willing to consider and play its part in any intervention by the Department of Transport. Senator Craughwell referred to carriers and IALPA. I have met representatives of IALPA. They have a viewpoint and are well represented. It is the meeting of minds in the middle that must be achieved but there must be no ambiguity over the safety.
In making my next point, which is to put the matter into context, I do not mean to make a point that sounds frivolous. When watching the television programme “Air Crash Investigation” and distilling the various elements that lead to an accident or cause an incident in airspace, it is noticeable that it is the little pieces that add up. If staff are unhappy in a high-risk, high-intensity job, something is wrong. Something is radically wrong if the members of the transport committee receive emails in large volumes on this matter. We should extrapolate from this to see what is happening at the next level down. People who would never under normal circumstances come to a politician or contemplate writing an email or becoming part of a movement expressing concern about their workplace are willing to meet us individually. Let us put it in context: if the focus of someone in a high-intensity position is not 100% on what he or she is doing but rather on something related to his or her work, it is not good. Senator Craughwell, having been the president of a union, and I, having been involved in that regard in school, will know there are components of a workplace that require all staff to function in such a way as to go in the one direction.
I will refer to the safety culture later when discussing section 67. There is a need for the IAA to examine what is happening. Something prompted its members to take the course of action they took. It was not something simple. Senator Craughwell will concur with that. My concern is that there will be a breach of safety culture.
I do not disagree with much of what Senators Craughwell, Boylan and Buttimer have said. That we, as Oireachtas politicians, have received many emails on a number of issues in this area, particularly safety, makes me quite concerned. Aviation is not just another business; we all understand that. It is a serious business where nothing can be left to chance. I am sure people in IALPA and other groups are focused on safety at all times. I am also sure the Minister of State will have taken this into account in addressing the Bill. I have not read all of it, to be honest; I have read parts of it.
Many concerns have been expressed to Oireachtas Members on issues relating to air traffic control. Other concerns have been raised relating to pilots. The point I am making, therefore, is that we cannot leave anything to chance on this. When the Minister of State responds, she will probably say all groups will be represented but it is important that all workers be properly represented and that their points of view be heard because aviation is not just another business; it is a business that has to be handled carefully. Safety has to be paramount. I agree with a lot of what has been said here. I await the reply of the Minister of State.
I thank the Minister of State for being willing to listen. The Senator hit the nail on the head in saying we are talking about pilots first. Anybody who has watched the programme Senator Buttimer adverted to, on air accident investigations, will realise flying is about a number of small steps that must all be taken in the correct order. A pilot must not be afraid to report. There cannot be circumstances in which pilots feel the employer is the only person they can go to. I could cite examples concerning the pressure pilots were put under to sail as close to the wind as possible without breaking the regulations, but I will not do so specifically because, the moment I do, people will start putting two and two together and coming up with a different airline than the one in question, and we will have airlines branded as this, that or the other. By putting what I propose into legislation, we would guarantee the people who do the work on the ground the opportunity to go beyond their employer and ensure they are getting the best and safest conditions in which to do their job.
I mentioned Rescue 116 in an earlier contribution. I am aware that the report on the investigation is due imminently. None of the organisations referred to in respect of Rescue 116, including the IAA, the Department of Transport and CHC, comes out of it well. One will find in the report that staff were afraid to talk about issues. When pilots were dispatched or scrambled to fly from Dublin to Blacksod after 18 hours without sleep, where was the IAA? How did it finish up having pilots on 24-hour duty? I have no idea how that happened. The IAA has not crowned itself in glory. As Senator Buttimer said, air traffic control is a stressful job at the best of times. We discussed this at meetings of the committee. We heard horrific stories from air traffic controllers. Changing the name of the organisation and moving the regulator into it is not going to change the culture. Unfortunately, the Minister of State is the person carrying the can on this. If she is not going to accept my amendment, I want from her a promise that she will determine exactly what is going on and put an end to it.Senator Buttimer mentioned Kieran Mulvey. Every time I think of his name, I know we have a major crisis on our hands. That is when we look for Mr. Mulvey and where he is at his best. The stuff I am getting back from pilots, air traffic controllers, engineering people and cabin crews pains me. All of them are having problems and the IAA is stuck in the middle of that to its neck. I ask the Minister of State to accept these amendments.
An important point is around removing the fear to report. It is critical that any licence holder, pilot or air traffic controller who spots something that concerns them in terms of safety has to be able to report it without fear of coming under scrutiny or of it interfering with his or her job prospects because he or she has to go through his or her airline. That is crucial.
If such people make that report, they are also entitled to know they will get a clear response that will give them the assurance that when they are flying or carrying out their duties as a licence holder, they are doing so with the clarifications they sought from the IAA. That is not the current situation. When pilots and licence holders seek clarifications, they are left wanting in terms of answers. When they go to regulators outside the jurisdiction, they are able to get clear answers, but that is no comfort for them when they fly as a licence holder under the IAA.
Our amendments are sensible and come from people who are at the coalface and see the need for this. They need to know that underpinning the legislation is the right to report concerns and to get a response and clarification on those concerns.
I thank the Senators. There were a number of issues there which were not directly related to the amendment.
I will deal with IAA industrial relations first. I am aware a significant proportion of air traffic controllers have made representations to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in recent weeks outlining their concerns regarding workplace issues in the IAA. With any commercial State body, workplace issues fall in the first instance to be addressed by the board and executive of that body. Nevertheless, briefings have been sought and received from the IAA on the issues raised in the correspondence.
On the operation of the IAA call-in scheme and any safety implications, IAA executives have affirmed that safety is their overriding priority and at no point has safety been compromised in the operation of the scheme or any risk posed to the safety of air traffic control, ATC, services. I understand IAA's long-standing internal dispute resolution board, established with union agreement, has issued a binding resolution upholding the IAA's position on the operation of the scheme. I understand that, while Fórsa has urged its members to co-operate with the ruling, a significant proportion of ATCs remain unhappy with the operation of the call-in scheme and other workplace matters. In an effort to ensure continued dialogue and to resolve the current issues, the IAA executive recently met with Fórsa and the chairman of the IAA internal dispute resolution board with a focus on addressing outstanding concerns through dialogue. It is important that all sides recognise the need to continue dialogue in a constructive way to bring a resolution to the differences that have arisen.
On section 59, amendments Nos. 1 and 2, I hear Senators' concerns. I empathise with them and know where they are coming from. It is my strong expectation that the new single aviation regulator, once established, will engage with all stakeholders in a comprehensive and effective manner. Communications with licence holders will be responsive and follow good practice. The intention is we will have a new regulator, board, chairperson and CEO with a fresh approach. That is important.
Amendment No. 1 proposes to establish a licence holders forum in primary legislation. The amendment fixes the membership, participants, meetings, matters it considers and communication by the IAA with participants. Amendment No. 2 proposes to establish a licence holders charter in primary legislation. It requires the IAA to provide written guidance to licence holders on any matter related to compliance with its licence, direction on the interpretation of legal requirements, a written ruling as to compliance with its licence and a right of reconsideration of any such ruling.
While I strongly support the objectives of good stakeholder engagement and open and transparent communication with licence holders by the new regulator, I am not in favour of establishing such a forum or charter by means of statute for a number of reasons. First, it is not the norm to hard-code such mechanisms into statute. Second, the amendments risk infringing on the independence of the regulator in transacting its business. Third, by being prescriptive, they fetter the flexibility of the regulator to effectively manage consultation, stakeholder engagement and communications. Fourth, I do not believe prescribing engagement between parties necessarily improves the quality of that engagement.
I fully understand IALPA is passionate about its concerns and it points to the long history of its engagement with the IAA. I hear that loudly. These are complex issues of trust and relationship-building. However, I am confident the new regulator intends to address the concerns of IALPA in a proactive and satisfactory manner on a non-statutory and a consultative basis.
In his letter to all stakeholders on 21 September, the aviation regulator's chief executive-designate invited observations on the preparation of a draft statement of strategy for the new IAA regulator for the period 2022 to 2024. In the letter he proposed the following as deliverables: to review and improve the IAA regulatory processes as necessary; to provide clear information on processes, including compliance requirements; to establish stakeholder forums to inform decision-making; to set out a charter for licence holders; and to establish forums for sharing best practice.
The basis of this Bill is to reform the regulatory structure and create a new independent regulator. Part of that reform will be stakeholder engagement under a new board, chairperson and CEO. It is important to note that IALPA will not be engaging with the IAA in its original form. As such, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 1 and 2.
I hear what the Minister of State is saying. I spent four years at the top of trade unionism, and in that time I learned that you can work within rules and lay down procedures that both sides can adhere to, though maybe not as rigidly as we are trying to do here. You can have regulations and rules that people have to adhere to to resolve difficulties.
I will push a vote on this. I understand the Minister of State's position. I ask that, if I lose the vote, the Minister of State will consider a statutory instrument to protect the pilots, air cabin crews, engineers and air traffic controllers and guarantee them direct access to a regulator rather than having to go through their employers. The Minister of State might look at this with us and IALPA, if I lose the vote. I am hopeful I will not.
The Minister of State's reply gives us an answer in the context of what we can achieve. The Minister of State's bona fides should be accepted on this. There is a win in terms of a new board, a new independent regulator, a new CEO and stakeholder engagement. The Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, should meet with a representative body of air traffic controllers because there seems to be permeating through the organisation a culture of fear and harassment. The safety culture which the Minister of State said in her reply is paramount, and that of the board of the executive, is shot. It is done.Reference has been made to the internal dispute resolution process. That has completely failed and now neither side has confidence in the culture. Perhaps I am wrong but I do not believe that the issues with the process can be resolved and give us the outcome that we all want. The safety culture is broken and needs to be fixed.
Senator Craughwell spoke about IALPA. The relationship between IAA management and the air traffic controllers is damaged. I am trying to find the emails from the committee. Fundamentally, a safe working environment is needed. I very much welcome the response by the Minister of State, which I hope is centred on staff well-being.
I apologise for being haphazard with my notes but I wish to put the something on record. The members of staff who come in every day have a pre-work meeting where people are asked whether they are okay, up to the task, whether anything is bothering or concerning them, and how are they feeling as they arrive at work. That is the type of engagement prior to work.
I appeal to Senator Craughwell to accept the bona fides of the Minister of State in the context of her reply. In fairness, she has given us a positive reply. All members of the committee accept that the internal dispute resolution process is not working. The process cannot work in the future and I place my confidence in the new board, new CEO and new independent mechanism. The committee approach of engaging with Mr. Kieran Mulvey should be explored. I appeal to the good nature of the Minister of State and the senior Minister to meet to discuss this matter because we need to establish all of the facts.
With regard to working in a toxic environment that does not have well-being at its heart, despite all the policy statements, glossy magazines and PowerPoint presentations and comments that have been conveyed to Department, I have met these people and was struck by their sincerity. I fully understand and accept that there are two sides in every dispute. I was a shop steward when I was a teacher so I have been in staffrooms where there have been disputes and issues but, at the end of the day, there is a commonality that allows people to reach an outcome. I hope that we do not have to vote on this amendment. There is a dysfunctionality between management and staff that must be addressed and hope that we can do that. Finally, I take great heart from the response given by the Minister of State.
Excuse the pun but without doubt the Acting Chairperson is flying through the amendments. I would not want Senators Craughwell and Boylan to think that I have not taken their points seriously. I back what they have said on the basis that we have all received the emails and met the people concerned. Maybe "disharmony" is a mild word to use but things need to be corrected.
I wish to mention something that has not been so far. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the pilots and air traffic controllers for ensuring we have an outstanding safety record in this country. In our everyday lives we probably do not realise or understand the significance of their jobs and the fact that their work is unlike all other work. Everyone who gets on a plane rely on them for their lives. My family loves to fly but I do not. I am not a good flyer but pilots and air traffic controllers repeatedly give me the courage to board planes.
I have been reassured by what the Minister of State has said and trust that her words have meat on the bone. She has given a lot of commitments. Things are happening and are going to happen but without doubt progress needs to happen quickly so that people are happy. Pilots, air traffic controllers and anybody involved in the aviation industry need to be happy and content in their jobs. They must feel free to say what they need to say, report what they need to report and involve themselves in discussions with the IAA or anybody else. I respect the fact that Senators Craughwell and Boylan are entitled to press the amendment. However, I am happy with the Minister of State, as she has clearly stated, what is going to happen but we should not hang about and I am satisfied that things are happening.
I have no doubt about the Minister of State's commitment to date. She has always been an honourable person and I accept her bona fides. My comments are not directed at her at all but she will not always be in her post.
The Minister of State will move on to greater and better things and she may finish up as Taoiseach, which would be great for Galway. We are talking about the current organisation and not her. We have all said that there is a toxicity in that organisation at the moment. Perhaps a new CEO or chairman will make all of that better but I do not know. This debate is not about the Minister of State and never was; it is about the IAA and the relationship that exists between pilots, air traffic controllers, engineers, cabin crews and everyone associated with this work and on whom we depend for our safety. I do not want anybody leaving here today saying that I had a go at the Minister of State and I want to put on record that her bona fides are beyond question.
I acknowledge the Minister of State's response but the in-house mediation has failed and there is no confidence. The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications has proposed that an independent mediator should be appointed. She can correct me if I am wrong but I understand that Fórsa is willing to come to the table. The Government should intervene and say that there is an issue that cannot be resolved in-house. The Minister of State used the words "binding resolution" and we have seen what happened when that was done. I appeal to her to bring both sides together and says to everyone that this issue is about safety, people and a toxic culture. Such a culture no good for staff, air traffic controllers, pilots and the travelling public and, ultimately, we all lose. I appeal to Senator Craughwell to allow us time to reflect on these matters and not to call a vote. I honestly believe that the Minister of State can bring everyone together and I hope that we can do that.
It is important to differentiate between what we are doing in this Bill, which seeks to reform the regulatory structure, and industrial relations issues. It is very clear that we should not conflate the two and both aspects are equally important.
The internal dispute resolution board was established with union agreement. It is important, as frustrating as it is, that both sides engage and try to resolve matters.
In terms of the amendments, I reiterate that putting charters and fora into statute and hard coding it will have an impact on the independence of the regulator. That will remove the flexibility that an independent regulator needs. A CEO-designate has given an explicit commitment and promise to engage on the charter and forum. He has stated as much in his draft statement of strategy.I ask Senators to consider me facilitating a meeting with the CEO-designate in advance of Report Stage to go through the issues raised and the amendments tabled on Committee Stage. That would be a valuable exercise and the Senators could see for themselves his commitment to this engagement with all stakeholders and addressing many of the issues raised by them tonight.