Thursday, 16 June 2022
Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020: Committee Stage (Resumed)
On the last occasion, we were dealing with amendment No. 1 and the Minister of State was in possession when we reported progress. Does the Minister of State want to resume what she was deliberating on? I note Senator Doherty wants to say something as well. Does the Minister of State want to say anything before I call Senator Doherty?
I do not want to make a contribution yet because there are others before me. I am concerned about the groupings. I wish to propose that we not accept the groupings as put down by the Bills Office this morning for two reasons. First, I believe things are grouped together that are distinctly different-----
I want to say to the Senator that we can deal with each grouping as we reach it. We will deal with each grouping as we come to it. Each one will be agreed or not agreed. We will not deal with them now but when we reach them.
I will outline the basis of my concerns and my proposal. I do not know if the Acting Chair was present in the Chamber last week when we had an issue with the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin being here. There were a number of groupings together. A vote was inadvertently called before about 80% of the amendments in the grouping had been discussed. It meant that Government Members had to vote against things that we would otherwise have been positively disposed towards. I do not want that to happen today in the heat of the debate.
No. The groupings are reached when they are reached. We will deal with each of them at the time. Those are not my rules. They are the rules of the House. I do not make up the rules here. I am just saying that groupings, as we reach them, are agreed or not agreed.
We have never done it any other way. Never in my time in this Chair have I done it any other way than when we reach each group, we ask if the proposed grouping is agreed, and it is either agreed or it is not. It is generally agreed. It has not always been agreed. That is what has happened any time I have been in the Chair.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 have already been grouped. They were agreed to be grouped by the House on a different day. They are being discussed together. They will be voted on separately but they are being discussed together. After we deal with amendments Nos. 1 and 2, the next grouping is amendments Nos. 3, c4a and d4a. They may be discussed together by agreement. I will put that question to the House and either it agrees to that or it does not. Likewise, when we get to amendments Nos. 3a, 3d and 5a, the Chair will say that they may be discussed together by agreement - the phrase is "and may be discussed together by agreement" - and the House will decide that it is or is not happy to discuss them together. Again, when we get to the next grouping - amendments Nos. 3c, 3g and 3h - the Chair will say that they are related and may be discussed together by agreement. We will either agree or disagree and so on. They are not my rules; they are the rules of this House. If people do not like them, they can change them, but they are the rules as they are at the moment.
At the moment we are discussing amendments Nos. 1 and 2 together. That was agreed at a previous sitting of the Seanad. Whoever would like to contribute on amendments Nos. 1 and 2 is more than welcome to do so. Does anyone want to discuss amendments Nos. 1 and 2?
Before we proceed to discuss amendments Nos. 1 and 2, I want to pose a few questions. There has been some interaction outside the House on the Bill's progress. There are a few things that I need to establish before we move any further. I ask the Minister of State to state what level of aviation expertise there is in her Department. Who is the aviation expert advising the Minister?
I am terribly sorry. It is clear from the air accident investigation unit, AAIU, report on Rescue 116 that "The Minister for Transport should ensure that the Department has sufficient specialist aviation expertise to enable it to discharge effective oversight of the full range of IAA activities". This Bill is about regulating the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA. I need to know who is the aviation expert who is advising on this Bill before we progress it.
I do not have the power to instruct the Minister of State as to what she responds to. The Senator is allowed to put questions relevant to either the section or the amendments, and the Minister of State is entitled to respond in whatever way she likes.
In the context of Senator Craughwell's contribution, to be fair to the Minister of State we have had extensive engagement with the Department, the Minister of State and the Department officials. As Senator Craughwell knows full well, those of us, including the Acting Chair, who are on the transport committee have dealt with this Bill extensively to the point where we have re-engaged again since the Bill began to make its way through this House.
On the question of expertise, we have engaged with Jim Gavin, who is the director of safety regulation in the IAA. He presented a series of briefings to us. He gave us a series of informative and substantive insights into the Bill around the capacity of the IAA, again acknowledging the issue' of peer support and the stakeholders' forum.
I will refer later to the matter of the vesting day.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, the Minister of State and the Members of the House had Kieran Mulvey get involved in the whole process. That was an important part of engagement with staff. We were in Shannon. I could not stress enough my complete admiration for the staff in the aviation centre in Shannon. The level of pressure and stress and the competence of the staff is mind-blowing.
To respond to Senator Craughwell's point, we have a body of people who feed into the Department and advise the Minister through various mechanisms. They informed the Department, the Minister and the Government in arriving where we are today. The Irish Air Line Pilots Association, IALPA, has also been very engaged with all of us and has made very pertinent points, as have other stakeholders in the whole process. Therefore, a huge degree of competence and a huge amount of information has gone into producing this Bill. For the Senator to ask about the competency or advice given to the Minister is a moot point. If I am wrong I will be happy to retract, but my understanding is that the Department of Transport has a pool of knowledge, including experience-based knowledge.
We went to the IAA in Shannon, as the Acting Chair knows. The level of competency at that meeting was quite substantial, to my mind. The ability to communicate and to inform us on that day could not be questioned. Is Senator Craughwell saying that the people in the IAA are not qualified or are not competent? Does he believe they cannot brief the Minister, or inform or brief the Department, and as a consequence all stakeholders cannot collectively put together this legislation? I think the point Senator Craughwell makes is redundant, based on our visit to Shannon.
I am sorry but a number of things have happened since we were last in the House discussing the Bill and they need to be cleared up before we go any further. With respect to Senator Buttimer, of course the air traffic control people were excellent. We are separating them out. This is part of what is happening in the Bill. I do not have a problem with what takes place in Shannon. It was highly expert.
There are two things that are troubling me today. The first of these is that I was approached by the very organisation the Bill will cover to lobby me to have the Bill passed. The AAIU has recommended to the Minister that the Minister separates everybody so they have their own independent aviation experts. This recommendation was made on 5 November 2021. The expert is not the IAA. It is that body which we are trying to regulate. One of the key findings in the report is the lack of oversight by the Department of Transport of the IAA. Whether we like it or do not like it, this is the key issue in the AAIU's report.
Another recommendation is that the Minister for Transport institutes a detailed review of the IAA regulatory and oversight mechanisms to ensure that they are sufficiently robust and comprehensive and that the interface and delineation of responsibilities are clearly defined and understood by the IAA and the entities it regulates. It is the job of the Department of Transport to regulate the IAA. It is the job of the IAA to regulate the industry. We cannot have collusion between the Department and the IAA in order to pass the Bill. I asked at the outset who in the Department is the qualified aviation expert advising the Minister. I do not accept that the IAA, which will be regulated by the Bill, can advise the Minister on anything to do with the Bill. This is not the function of the IAA.
There is good legislation in the Bill and it is needed. The point behind it is the debacle that led to Rescue 116 and four brave people being lost at Blackrock Island in County Mayo. They were lost because of a number of failings. Those failings occurred right across the system, from the Department to everybody involved in aviation. The Minister of State was not in position at the time and she holds no responsibility for it. I am sorry the Bill has taken as long as it has to go through the House. Surely the Minister of State can see the point being made by the AAIU. She should have her own independent aviation advice. I ask her again whether there is an aviation expert on the staff in the Department of Transport.
I do not doubt any of the things Senator Buttimer referred to with respect to experiential learning and experience with respect to drafting legislation. What I do have a problem with is that we had an accident that cost four people their lives. Following that accident 44 recommendations were made. I have just addressed two of these recommendations. I am deeply uncomfortable with the fact that I was lobbied by the organisation we are trying to regulate in order to get the Bill passed. Am I alone in this? Am I the only person in the room who sees something wrong with this?
-----when we are lobbied, it is about informing us of a position, regardless of whether we are yea or nay. I met IBEC this morning for a briefing. Are we saying IBEC cannot lobby us before the budget? I met the INTO yesterday. Is this also the case for Fórsa or SIPTU? I do not know.
I want to address the point Senator Buttimer has made. IBEC may have spoken to him this morning and lobbied him but it is not advising the relevant Minister on what it wants to do. It may have input to the Minister but it is not advising the Minister.
I am going back to the AAIU report, which states that "The Minister for Transport should ensure that the Department has sufficient specialist aviation expertise to enable it to discharge effective oversight of the full range of IAA activities". This Bill is about oversight of the IAA. Who is the expert in the Department? Who is the aviation expert in the Department advising the Minister? When was this person employed and how long has the person been working in aviation?
I welcome Senator Craughwell saying the Bill is good and that is important. This is why I am back in the Seanad today after a delay - to get best practice legislation for Ireland. I am here today to speak on amendments Nos. 1 and 2. There has been significant engagement. I want to go through the amendments and talk through the concerns that Senators have. This is exactly my role. I have made significant changes to the Bill. I ask Senators to permit me to address the Bill and talk through the amendments. It will be important.
With regard to expertise, section 14 of the 1993 Act requires the IAA to provide advice to the Minister. With regard to the aviation sector of the Department, there is significant regulatory expertise. The AAIU also has technical expertise. The Department also contracts technical expertise as required.
It is very important that we deal with the issues today and talk to them and debate them. I want to hear the views of Senators. That is what we want to do to put forward the best legislation. That is what I am here to do today. If there are other issues, Senators can raise them as a Commencement matter or in separate debates. What I want to do today is to get the legislation through as quickly as possible and debate it, while respecting the views of Senators of all parties. This is my role.
I do not want to speak on amendments Nos. 1 or 2 but on the question Senator Craughwell has raised. In an attempt to be helpful, I wrote to the chief executive of the AAIU, Captain Jurgen Whyte, with regard to the two direct recommendations of the AAIU on a lack of in-house expertise in the Department of Transport and the IAA. Unfortunately, due to the existing legislation, he is not in a position to be open and transparent with regard to the status of the recommendations made of anybody with regard to the report on Rescue 116. To be helpful, when the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, was here yesterday on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, he said all of the 14 requests made of the Department by the AAIU had been responded to and will be published on the Government's website very shortly.If we could get that publication sooner rather than later, it might help with some of the roadblocks. There are very obvious roadblocks. This is crucial legislation. It is so crucial because it literally means the difference between life and death. That is why we are taking it so seriously.
I will talk about the amendment. I have met representatives of the Irish Aviation Authority. I am happy to put that on the record. It approached me and we met. That is why we are now seeing amendments coming from the Government. People are listening and taking on board the concerns that were being raised the last time we discussed this Bill in the House. I have also met the Irish Airline Pilots Association, IALPA, on numerous occasions. That is what an elected representative does. You engage with the people who are directly affected by the legislation, you take on board different points of view and try to work out a compromise or a best case. The rationale for us bringing forward amendment No. 1 which is the licenceholders' forum was that in the past, stakeholders were excluded. I acknowledge that when we get to them, the Government amendments will address some of our concerns but stakeholders were left out of meetings, including the unions representing the licenceholders. They were an important voice and should have been at the table. That was our thinking behind introducing amendment No. 1 on the licenceholders' forum. The problem with the groupings is we are going to discuss the Government's amendment on that-----
My amendment discusses the licenceholders' forum. The issue is that while I would be prepared to withdraw that amendment, I still have concerns that not all of the issues I was trying to address in amendment No. 1 are covered by the Government's amendments. That is the problem with the groupings.
If Senator Boylan wants to make a reference, amendments Nos. 1 and 2 have been grouped in a previous sitting of the Seanad, which I do not think I was chairing. That was agreed by the House. If Senator Boylan wants to address or refer to other amendments in her contribution on amendments Nos. 1 and 2, she should feel free to do so. I will not stop her.
My concerns are that IALPA still has a preference for a licenceholders' forum but one of its issues concerns the requirement to hold meetings. We have received correspondence from the Irish Aviation Authority which does not give information on whether there will be regular meetings, how often meetings will be held or if they are mandated to be held at certain times. What IALPA is looking for is that the amendment would specify a maximum time between meetings of the forum and the right of a stakeholder to request that the forum be convened if a stakeholder has a reason to request that the forum examine a critical or time-constrained issue. That is not addressed in the Government's amendment but is addressed in amendment No. 1. The Minister of State might respond to that.
In regard to the specific amendment I find myself largely in agreement with the approach taken by Senator Boylan relating to the scheduling of such meetings. That is a concern for IALPA. I have had numerous conversation with IALPA and found it to be upfront and straightforward about what it is trying to achieve in the best interests of the people they represent and the travelling public. The amendments the Government has brought forward are welcome. There has been a significant shift in thinking, which is helpful. It might not go as far as I would like but there is an improvement. I want to put on the record too that I met the Irish Aviation Authority. I found it a helpful dialogue. I am not sure it would say anything different. It listened intently and it has fed into the process, which is how legislation proceeds.
I thank the Minister of State for taking an approach that other Ministers perhaps would not have, in not railroading through the Seanad at a particular point notwithstanding the pressures from every angle. We are not as far along as we would like, certainly from my perspective, but I recognise that all the stakeholders have had a significant say and that is how legislation should be processed.
In reference to my good friend, Senator Craughwell, in regard to the departmental expertise we have to be careful that we do not personalise any of this. I am conscious of that report in regard to the tragedy off the Mayo coast and the recommendations there. I hope that will be dealt with appropriately at a later stage because we must be mindful of all who have lost their lives in this context. It is also important that the Irish Aviation Authority has the requisite experience, expertise and redress. It seems to me that the expertise in the Department is more about, or should be more about, oversight, the following of process, auditing and ensuring that the procedures and processes as set out in legislation are followed to the nth degree and that where it exists, best practice from peer review internationally is also brought to bear. That is how we should try to address this.
We can accept there is not an aviation expert within the Department right now, and I would be grateful if the Minister of State would confirm that. It is important as the legislation progresses that we are dealing with a Department that does not have the expertise to oversee the organisation for which we are legislating. I would like confirmation of that, in the Minister of State's reply. I too have met representatives of the IAA and IALPA. I have spoken to several others, many of whom have raised with me the concerns that I have raised this morning. It is rather odd that we are legislating here for a Department that does not have an expert in the area for which we are legislating.
I agree with Senator Dooley's point that we should have proper processes and auditing in place but the people to do that are surely aviation experts. We find ourselves at odds with the Department and with the Minister of State in parts of this legislation because we have been advised by expert aviators; the people who fly the aircraft. I want to now when I board an aircraft in Dublin Airport that I have a good chance of arriving where I want to go. I want strong legislation. This legislation is strong. We are down to a number of small areas that are delaying this legislation. However, Senator Boylan made the point that later on we will discuss a Government amendment which is close to section 59 which we are now discussing. I will be pressing this amendment when the time comes because I believe it encompasses everything the expert pilots want. There is no expert from the Department who can tell me that what the pilots want is wrong. It is the experts who fly the aircraft-----
The Minister of State was kind enough to organise meetings not only for the groups of Senators but also individually with members of the IAA. Genuinely it was one of the weirdest meetings that I have ever been at. Literally the representatives of the IAA were trying to convince me that they did not need further regulations or the ability to regulate an industry for which the authority is responsible. The letter I received from Jim Gavin this week was one of the most bizarre letters I have ever received from a State agency representative in my 14 years as a public representative.
I wish to speak to amendment No. 1 first, and then separately to amendment No. 2. This proposal is to ask in legislation to adopt a licenceholders' forum which is distinctly different from a stakeholders' forum. Let us be clear about it. The licenceholders are the people in this country who have to go through major professional training to make sure that they are licenceholders and that they have the authority, expertise and professionalism to be able to guide the aviation industry and carry out its functions. What they are trying to find is a space where in law they have a forum that will allow them to discuss the ongoing issues they have with regard to safety in the Irish aviation industry, to discuss collectively as licenceholders and those responsible for it how they will address those issues to make it compelling for every licenceholder to attend those meetings.That includes the IAA representatives, our airlines, unions and every licence holder with a stake in ensuring our aeroplanes and helicopters fly under the safest possible conditions under legislation. We have been talking about this for many months because the IAA does not want to put the stakeholder or licence holder forum in legislation. It attempted to convince us that it would have the meetings anyway and that there was absolutely no need for compellability. To my mind, we have had in the past ten years an industry that has conducted meetings, albeit very rarely. That serious major players in the Irish market choose not to attend those meetings means one is talking to oneself. If there is no compellability applying to everyone with a serious stake in the industry, I do not know what we are at.
We as legislators are attempting to give a regulatory authority, a State agency whose sole job is to ensure the safety not only of service providers in the industry but also the 2 million-plus Irish citizens who will use the services of the industry this year, powers of regulation. It does not seem to want to have the laws to regulate the industry; it wants to be able to do so on a wing and a prayer - excuse my pun. I find that really worrying. That is why I believe it is really important for us to talk about putting on a statutory footing a licence holders forum that compels attendance on the part of those responsible for the safety of aviation. I am talking about sitting at the table with the regulatory authority responsible for ensuring safety legislation is adhered to and about everyone operating openly and transparently in front of each other, with each other and for each other.
Amendment No. 1 sets out the mechanism for the licence holders forum exactly as we would like to see it. It specifies who should attend, how often meetings should be held and how often and where the minutes should be published. This is so everything discussed and proposed by the airlines, unions and anybody with a licence and vested interest in ensuring the safety of our aviation industry, including the IAA, will be dealt with openly and transparently and not on the basis of a wing and a prayer and a nudge and a wink indicating there might be a meeting this year or as soon as we can get around to it, having regard to the language and the amendments from the Government. I ask the Minister of State and, indeed, the officials who have been advising her to seriously respect the merits of this amendment and think seriously about those who are genuinely seeking to be assured, be they workers and regulators in the industry or ordinary pundits like me who will be getting on an aeroplane at some point soon, so those responsible for keeping us safe will be integral to that task and do their job in the open and in the public eye. That is what the first amendment is about.
My second point is about the licence holders charter that will arise from a number of meetings and govern how everybody must conduct themselves and their business. Attendance by everybody at the forum is so important in the first place because, if people are not in attendance, they will not have an input into the charter. In that case, they will have a get-out-of-jail clause implying they do not actually have to adhere to the charter. As proposed, there would be nothing on a statutory footing and those who did not attend would not know what was said of them. The regulatory authority is not looking for any regulatory powers to enforce what is decided at the forum through the charter. I have believed from the very beginning that we need to put the licence holders forum on a statutory footing. More important, we need to ensure that the licence holders charter is a living, breathing document that can be amended at every single meeting of the forum and that new ideas can be suggested to ensure we are safe every single time we go up in a helicopter, aeroplane or other such aircraft. We must ensure everybody is compelled by law to live up to the standards therein. The only way we can do that is by putting both of these amendments on the legislative footing and guaranteeing that the IAA has the authority, teeth and backbone to ensure all our airlines do exactly what they are advised and what they are obliged to do. Every other union or licence holder would be singing off the same sheet. If we cannot achieve this in a public and transparent way, we must question why we are doing any of this at all. At present, there is no compellability, and there are no licence obligations if there is no legislation to empower any airline or licence holder to do what the IAA tells it if they do or do not show up to a meeting.
We are either serious about safety in aviation or we are not. What we do today in considering this legislation is a marker to show we should be serious. If we do not do what I say, I really wonder about the point of having a regulatory authority that does not want to have the legal status to regulate an industry that is so crucial. As Senator Craughwell has said, it literally comes down to the difference between life and death. We are mourning four people, and their families will never get over their loss. What we do today and in this legislation should be a mark of respect for the service those people gave to us.
I would like to hear the Minister of State's views on putting compellability on a statutory footing. The IALPA position on meetings has validity. The Joint Committee on Health has quarterly meetings with the Minister and HSE. These are to be built into its work programme. Therefore, one knows there is a meeting every quarter. Why is there reluctance to commit to the meetings in the case in question?
I derived great hope from the correspondence we received from Mr. Jim Gavin, particularly on the commitment to fostering the development, maintenance and improvement of aviation safety and supporting the development of a positive aviation-safety culture within the aviation community. That should not be lost. I appreciate that we are all coming to this with the best motivation.
Let us consider the example of the European aviation market and the way it has been transformed, thanks in the main to Mr. O'Leary of Ryanair, which has made flying cheaper predominantly. In this regard, the Leader has rightly spoken about her ability to go up in a helicopter or aeroplane. Maybe I am wrong but I believe our record on air-travel safety stands up. Given that we have opened up air travel, the world is now much smaller place for us as an island nation. The whole issue is that there is a commitment in the context of the aviation authority.
With regard to the licence holders and stakeholders forum, the Minister of State might tease matters out again. To give her and her Department credit, they have moved. Senator Dooley spoke about the path that the legislation took. One would have to give the Minister of State credit in the context of the engagement. I have no issue with IALPA, the IAA or the Department of Transport briefing and engaging with us. I do not have all the information or knowledge. The Acting Chairperson, as a member of the transport committee along with Senator Craughwell and me, will know it is through engagement that you learn. I realise I am digressing-----
No, and I will not be the last. Without our committee talking to the workers and representatives, perhaps the Mulvey development would not have happened. That is the power of engagement. I spoke to Mr. Jim Gavin by Microsoft Teams or Zoom and there was a visit to the Seanad. We had our engagement with IALPA, which I believe is important. I would like to hear the Minister of State's teasing out of the point. I am not hung up on the compellability strategy element and am open-minded about it. I am just curious as to what are the Minister of State's views on it.
One of the things that gives us all great confidence when we go to fly is the level of safety that exists in the world of aviation. If one peruses the air accident investigation reports on any air accident one will see that the level of detail that is available is incredible. I mean if a part is replaced on any aircraft that flies then one can trace it all the way to the very machine that made it, which gives people confidence. I have no difficulty with the Irish Aviation Authority briefing us. Indeed, the IAA has a statutory obligation to advise the Minister but I am not sure that it goes as far as telling the Minister how to write legislation or what legislation should be written.
I believe these amendments will do two things. They will ensure that meetings take place and are scheduled and will provide us with written reports, which I hope that the public will have access to, and overall will increase the level of confidence that we have in the aviation industry. I ask the Minister of State to look at the amendments from that perspective. It means that someone like herself who flies can have confidence knowing that the licenceholders meet on a regular basis, their issues are taken on board and the minutes of the meetings are available, which all gives confidence that the system is going right.
I accept the bona fides of Captain Jim Gavin. However, he may take up another job tomorrow, so the commitment that he gave would no longer be relevant so who will take over? I give that as an example of why we seek this provision in legislation. If we get that in legislation, then we are sure this will always happen. It has been said that if the same system that operates in aviation was applied in an operating theatre then fewer people would die. I ask that we take both of these amendments in the best possible faith and that we are allowed to progress with the rest of this legislation.
I want to address the issue of the licenceholders' charter. Other Members have expressed their support for what I said about mandating when meetings take place. I do not see why that cannot be prescribed in the legislation to ensure that no change of management or personnel deters from the situation.
In terms of the letter supplied by Captain Gavin, I was reassured by the fact that there would be no veto by any stakeholder. As others have asked, if personnel change will we still have the same guarantee?
Amendment No. 2 concerns the licenceholders' charter, which I do not think is addressed in the Government's amendments. I understand that when anybody raises a concern there is no prescribed formula for how it will be addressed. We gave the example of one incident where IALPA reported a concern to the Irish Aviation Authority but did not get a response, was not told when it would get a response and there was no interaction. IALPA compared that situation with what happens with its British counterpart where a response is given within two weeks and there must be a response. We can learn from best practice in other jurisdictions. The reason we mentioned issues concerning the licenceholders' charter was that it would mandate the way the IAA interacts with IALPA, ensure there is proper consultation on proposed new regulations and queries would be answered.
The Government's amendment does not specify the right of a licenceholder to get an answer to a technical query or to be given an explanation of an interpretation of a regulation. My understanding is that the right to a response is limited to licensing issues. The letter from Captain Gavin refers to the licenceholders' ability to submit specific queries to the IAA but his letter does not confirm that they have a right to get a reply, which is an issue that has been raised by many of us. We can all raise concerns until we are blue in the face but if one is not going to get a response then that is problematic. I ask the Minister of State to explain why the scheduling of meetings, and the interaction with IALPA and the IAA cannot be put into legislation.
I will try to answer all of the queries and I will go into some of the other details after so ask everyone to please bear with me.
I cannotaccept Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2, as proposed, are not acceptable. As drafted, they risk infringing on the independence and flexibility of action of the IAA, as regulator, and contain a level of specifics and detail that are not appropriate in primary legislation. However, as Senators are aware, there has been an extensive dialogue with Senators, the IAA and the pilot's union, which is IALPA, on these and other amendments. Having taken the views of the Senators on board, I propose Government amendment No. c4a, which I hope addresses the concerns raised in respect of the establishment of a forum and licenceholders' charter. I understand that the amendment will be discussed in a later group of amendments along with Senator Doherty’s related amendment No. d4a.
With the permission of the Acting Chairperson, I might address some of the questions now in order to give clarity to Senators.
Government amendment No. c4a provides for the IAA to convene an aviation stakeholders' forum with a broader membership than licenceholders. The purpose of the aviation stakeholders' forum will be as follows: to promote the sharing of best practice aviation safety initiatives; to engage with the IAA on matters relating to the regulation of aviation safety; to elicit views on proposals for EU and national regulatory changes in terms of aviation safety; and to enable the sharing of aviation lessons learned, best aviation practices, aviation safety performance indicators and the provision of information on specific aviation safety risks.
The Government amendment requires that the IAA publishes a licenceholders' charter that sets out the standards of engagement that will be undertaken by the IAA with the holders of the licences. The new aviation regulator has acknowledged the need to provide a forum and a licenceholders' charter for the licensing community, and the aviation regulator is fully committed to same. Additionally, under section 77 of the Bill, whenever requested by a committee of one or both Houses of the Oireachtas, the aviation regulator can be called to account for the performance of the IAA's functions, and have regard to any recommendations made on such, including in terms of these measures.
In bringing forward this amendment I am making a very significant concession in light of the issues that have been pressed. I think that we can all agree that there is no difference in substance between us in these matters.
The aviation stakeholders' forum will provide a means by which any safety relevant issues can be brought forward for people's attention, and teased out in a consultative and collaborative manner. This includes the issues relating to crew peer support programmes, which is important to IALPA.
In conclusion, Government amendment No. c4a will address the substantive issues that have been raised by Senators and IALPA, which feels that in the past their members' voices were not heard by the IAA. I, therefore, hope this proposal can be accepted.
An issue arose concerning the distinction between a licenceholders' forum and a stakeholders' forum. I will expand on the matter because it will clarify the need for a stakeholders' forum. This was a substantive issue that was raised by Senator Doherty's amendment. It is that distinction between an aviation stakeholder as opposed to a licenceholder.
Under the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, regulatory safety system, which concerns Regulation 2018/1139 and associated implementing rules, there are a number of identifiable stakeholders. I will cut to the chase before going into great detail by saying that the term "licenceholder" would lead to the membership of the forum being too narrow and exclude, for example, airlines and airports. The identifiable stakeholders are as follows: licenceholders, which mean individual pilots, air traffic controllers and aircraft mechanics; certificate holders, which are organisations that have been audited and deemed to meet the safety regulatory requirements, such as airlines, EU certified airports such as Cork, Shannon and Dublin Airports, maintenance providers and approved training organisations; and declared organisations, which are organisations that make a declaration to the IAA that they comply with specific rules such as declared training organisations, non-commercial complex aircraft operators, and special operations like aircraft used for specialised activities such as agriculture or surveying.In addition, under national regulations, other terms, such as "permissions", "approved organisations" and "people operating under permits", are used. By using the term, "licence holders forum" in primary legislation, we may inadvertently limit participation to just pilots, air traffic controllers and mechanics, with no scope for others who would have an important input into and roles to play in respect of aviation safety.
I consulted with the IAA, and my expectation is that the membership of the aviation stakeholder forum will be drawn from: recognised aviation sector trade unions, for example, IALPA and Fórsa; certified aviation organisations, such as air operator certificate holders, certified airports, approved training organisations, and certified maintenance organisations; representative bodies, such as the Federation of Aerospace Enterprises in Ireland, FAEI; recognised aviation stakeholder groups, such as the International Air Transport Association, IATA, for airlines, and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, IFALPA, and the European Cockpit Association, ICA, for pilots; declared organisations, which are those organisations that make a declaration to the IAA that they comply with specific rules; and other interested parties, such as the Air Accident Investigation Unit, AAIU, AirNav Ireland and EASA. As the focus of the forum is on aviation safety, the inclusion of representation from the areas of the travel trade, tourism, hotels and passenger rights is not envisaged. I hope this provides some perspective on this issue.
While I cannot accept the amendment, I will reflect on the points raised before Report Stage. There were questions regarding the scheduling of meetings. The Government amendment states that the IAA determines how often this forum will meet. Having listened to Senators, we can look at this issue on Report Stage.
I have answered the question relating to this issue. I outlined the situation at the start. As I said, the Department of Transport has engaged technical expertise when required and does so when required. In addition, the Department is also undertaking a review of the approaches taken in other countries regarding how they contract technical expertise. This is an ongoing work, but the Senator can be assured that there is technical expertise in the Department and that there is access to it.
I have answered the question. The Department of Transport has access to all the necessary expertise. If the Senator wishes to deal with the amendments here, he can deal with them. If he wishes to raise other issues under Commencement matters and have a more robust debate on this issue-----
The air accident investigation report criticises the fact that the Department depends on contractors to provide advice and states clearly that the Department needs to have an in-house expert. I ask again if there is such an in-house expert in aviation.
It is sad that we are dancing on the head of the pin of words when people's lives have been lost because of a lack of in-house expertise. I will just say that much.
Regarding the Minister of State's response on amendments Nos. 1 and 2, it is striking. I am 50 years old and I have never in my lifetime seen a regulatory authority refuse powers in the way we are seeing the IAA refuse powers in the context of this legislation. It is astounding. The Minister of State said that she wanted the forum to be broader than just licence holders and she suggested some people whom she thinks should be there. To my mind, they would dilute the conversation and the charter that would arise from it. Therefore, I would like the Minister of State to reiterate exactly who she would like to be there and what input she thinks they would have into a safety charter for the licence holders to operate under.
I would also like another explanation. The Minister of State also referred almost to a separate entity. I refer to a situation where if we do not have what we have been seeking in legislation, in respect of there being transparency and the ability to compel compliance with the legislation, that either or both Houses of the Oireachtas could compel representatives of the IAA to come before us in a committee to allow us to ask questions at any stage. Given, however, that the IAA does not answer the questions posed by the people it is regulating, and ignores them, I would like to know on what basis or in the context of what legislation it will be possible for either House of the Oireachtas to compel representatives of the IAA to come before us to answer questions and to be responsive to the Members of both Houses.
Returning to the stakeholder forum the Minister of State spoke of, if we were to call a meeting of that group we would probably need a hotel to accommodate the representatives from all the different agencies mentioned. The key thing is that pilots have concerns about lighting at airports when they are landing and taking off, as well as concerns about various other things. The Minister of State will also recall the destruction of a Concorde aircraft as it attempted to take off from an airport in Paris. A piece of metal on the runway apparently punctured the fuel tank and caused that aircraft to be lost. Regarding pilots and mechanics, the forum we are recommending in amendment No. 1 deals specifically with those working at the coalface in this regard. I have no difficulty with the Minister of State setting up a separate stakeholder forum that would allow for much broader discussion, but the licence holders forum is a key part of any safety mechanism. I am not going to harp on about the lack of expertise in the Department, but it would be good if the Minister of State just said she did not have anyone who is a qualified expert in the Department.
Regarding the forum, what is required here are people who have expertise in aviation safety. It is for that reason that if we were to limit it to just licence holders that we would end up narrowing the membership of that forum. Using the suggested terminology would exclude the representatives of airlines and airports, for example.What everyone wants on that forum is to make sure that the right people are at the table. The term "stakeholders" is leaving it open to the forum, the regulator as well, to ensure that those who have the necessary expertise are there and nobody is excluded who should be at the table. For example, IASA is not a licence holder that would be required to be at that. Recognised trade unions such as IALPA and Fórsa could attend. Certified aviation organisations, air operator certificate holders, approved training organisations would also form part of this. I refer also to other interested parties such as the air accident investigation unit, AAIU, AirNav Ireland and EASA. For that reason, the term "stakeholders" would be more appropriate.
In response to Senator Boylan's point, 5C of the Government charter amendment provides for the general guidance the IAA will give to the holders of licences as regards the discharge of their obligations as such holders.
I have a query. Twice the Minister of State has stated that if we called it a licence holders forum, that would exclude the airline carriers that have operating licences to be airline carriers. I refer to the amendment to establish the licence holders forum, as put forward by my colleagues, namely, amendment No. 1. It provides that the body of the licence holders forum would include any air carrier holding an air carrier operating licence; any recognised trade union or recognised stakeholder group - which would include IASA - representing 50 or more persons authorised to hold a commercial pilot's licence or airline pilot's transport licence; any recognised trade union or stakeholder group representing 50 or more persons licensed or authorised by the IAA 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% of their actual numbers by function shall suffice.
The wording of amendment No. 1 provides that everybody who has an interest and particularly is involved in the inputs and outturns of safety in the aviation industry would be at that licence holders forum. I have a real concern that calling it a stakeholders forum and allowing anybody and everybody with an interest in aviation, hospitality, tourism and whatever we would like to include ourselves will do nothing but dilute the forum which does not have any compellability, a schedule or diary of meetings and does not have a requirement to produce a stakeholders forum within any period of months arising from the first meeting depending on who does or does not show up. It is all very loose and we are proposing to make it even looser by allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry who has an interest in aviation to be added to a stakeholders' group as opposed to a licence holders group.
Garret Ahearn, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Lisa Chambers, Martin Conway, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Gerry Horkan, Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, Denis O'Donovan, Pauline O'Reilly, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 40, after line 37, to insert the following:
“Amendment of Act of 1993 - Licence Holders Charter
59.The Act of 1993 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 14:“Licence Holders Charter
14B.(1) For the purpose of ensuring that the system of authorisation and licensing is operated in an integrated and transparent manner consistent with the protection of safety, the Irish Aviation Authority shall adopt and operate a Licence Holders Charter.(2) In this section, a Licence shall refer to any licence, permit, or authorisation that is granted by the Irish Aviation Authority to any person or body in connection with commercial aviation.
(3) The Licence Holders Charter shall make provision for—(a) the right of a Licence holder and their recognised stakeholder groups to obtain written general guidance from the Irish Aviation Authority as to any matter related to compliance with its Licence,(4) The Irish Aviation Authority shall be bound by the Licence Holders Charter in respect of its dealings with Licence holders. It shall be without prejudice to the requirements of law in relation to the termination, withdrawal, or suspension of any Licence.
(b) the right of a Licence holder and recognised stakeholder groups to obtain specific written guidance from the Irish Aviation Authority, and where appropriate, direction on the interpretation of relevant legal requirements,
(c) the right of a Licence holder, in respect of any matter that arose or is arising in the course of the exercise of rights or the discharge of obligations under that Licence, to obtain a written ruling from the Irish Aviation Authority as to its compliance therewith, its duties, or authority,
(d) In respect of paragraph (c), a right to reconsideration of any such ruling by the Irish Aviation Authority, which to the fullest extent practicable, and such reconsideration shall be by persons other than the original decision maker,
(e) a procedure for regular publication of anonymised general guidance under paragraph (a) of specific guidance under paragraph (b), and subject to paragraph (d) any rulings under paragraph (c), and (f) any incidental matters, including procedures.
(5) Any right of a Licence Holder under this section may be exercised on its behalf by a recognised trade union or by a recognised stakeholder group.
(6) The Licence Holders Charter shall reflect and take due account of each of the following:(a) legal obligations of the relevant Licence holder and their corresponding duties independently of those of other Licence holders,(7) Within 3 months of the date of the enactment of the Air Navigation and Transport Act 2021(the enactment date), following consultation of the Licence Holders Forum, the Irish Aviation Authority shall publish a draft Licence Holders Charter for public consultation and specify a period of not less than 2 months within which representations with respect to the draft Charter may be made by interested parties or the public.
(b) the responsibilities of all Licence holders to take action where necessary to ensure compliance with their legal obligations,
(c) the need to approach compliance in an integrated manner by recognising the individual and collective role and responsibilities of all Licence holders, and
(d) the ‘Just Culture’ requirements of EU Regulation 376/2014.
(8) The Irish Aviation Authority shall consider each of the representations made and provide written reasons for adopting, modifying or rejecting each submission before adopting the Licence Holders Charter, which shall occur no later than 6 months from the enactment date and whereupon it shall become effective.
(9) Any amendments to the Licence Holders Charter shall be subject to the consultation requirements of subsections (7) and (8).”.”.
Garret Ahearn, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Lisa Chambers, Martin Conway, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Gerry Horkan, Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, Denis O'Donovan, Pauline O'Reilly, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House as I did not have the opportunity to do so earlier.
Amendment No. 3 on the first additional and substitute list of amendments, dated 2 February 2022, is in substitution for amendment No. 3 in the principal list of amendments, dated 5 October 2021. Amendments Nos. 3, c4a and d4a are logical alternatives and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 40, after line 37 to insert the following:
“Amendment of Act of 1993 - Crew Peer Support Programmes
59.The Act of 1993 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 14: “Crew Peer Support Programme
14C.(1) The Irish Aviation Authority shall periodically review the crew peer support programmes provided by the holders of air carrier licences or otherwise made available by them to crew pursuant to the requirements of CAT.GEN.MPA. 215 to Annex IV (Part – CAT) of Regulation (EU) No. 965/2012.(2) A comprehensive review of each such support programme shall be conducted by the Irish Aviation Authority at least every three years and no more frequently than at one-year intervals, in respect of which it shall consider the following:(3) In conducting these comprehensive reviews, the Irish Aviation Authority shall seek feedback from users of the programme to the maximum extent feasible, consistent with maintaining strict confidentiality concerning the identity of crew and their personal circumstances.(a) the nature of the programme having regard to the size and diversity of the air carrier in question;
(b) the ability of the programme to provide access to the requisite range of expert supports;
(c) the accessibility of such a programme including encouragement as to its use and the freedom of crew to access an alternative crew peer support programme to meet their personal needs;
(d) the adequacy of confidentiality arrangements;
(e) the involvement of crew representatives and recognised stakeholder groups in establishing and supporting the programme;
(f) the selection and training of peers, and their independence from any conflicting management or supervisory functions within the Air Operator’s Certificate holder or otherwise;
(g) the provision of adequate resources to the programme;
(h) the provision of mental health professionals to support peers when required by programme users; and
(i) the accessibility of programmes services and support by online and other electronic means.
(4) In the event of any deficiency in a crew peer support programme being found during a comprehensive review, the Irish Aviation Authority may direct changes to any such programme, which shall be binding. That shall be without prejudice to the ability to the Irish Aviation Authority’s power to direct changes in respect of deficiencies other than those identified during a periodic comprehensive review.
(5) The Irish Aviation Authority shall convene the Crew Peer Support National Forum which shall include representatives of:(6) The Minister for Transport shall appoint a chairman of the Crew Support National Forum.(a) the air carriers that it regulates and any persons engaged in the provision of support services to them or on their behalf;
(b) pilot associations and other recognised stakeholder groups and any persons from those associations engaged in the provision of support services to them or on their behalf; and
(c) the Medical Assessor.
(7) The Crew Peer Support National Forum, which shall receive secretariat services from the Irish Aviation Authority, has the following functions:(a) the sharing of best practice on crew peer support programmes;
(b) encouraging the implementation of cooperation and joint resource sharing between different crew peer support programmes;
(c) the development of a common (anonymised) data base to identify trends and to monitor the effectiveness of crew peer support programmes;
(d) approve and monitor the content and delivery of Peer Support training programmes;
(e) making recommendations to the Irish Aviation Authority as to the requirements of crew peer support programmes, and
(f) creating or encouraging the provision of a national crew peer support programme under a separate structure, whether through cooperation between programmes, or by other means, and to be accessible-(i) by all crew irrespective of their employer,
(ii) by crew not willing to use the programme made available by their employer for personal confidentiality or other reasons, and (iii) to crew who are out of work.”.”.
Our amendment is No. c4a on crew peer support. We know that since the Germanwings murder-suicide crash in 2015, it is recognised that pilots need to be provided with support programmes to deal with personal and mental health issues, and this requirement is mandated by the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, and came into force in February 2021. IALPA has provided pilot support programmes since the 1970s, which aim to help pilots keep their licences while supporting the pilots and the airlines to resolve difficult personal issues. However, this group only operates under Aer Lingus. Some other airlines have been setting up their own programmes but they are not all conforming to the same standards.
Our amendment is looking to have a single national peer support programme forum under the aegis of the IAA. One of the key differences between our amendment and the proposal by the Government is the particular language under the proposed new provision in paragraph (iv) at section 65B(1)(d)(iv). The Minister of State might clarify a question on the "promotion, by accountable managers of recognised organisations of aircraft crew members, of the use of the programme and trust in it". Who are these accountable managers? Are they the managers of pilot unions or the managers of the airline? Another issue on which we would like clarification is the review. Pilots have the right to access a peer support programme even if it is not a peer support programme within their own airline, and that is provided for under the EASA regulations. The Minister of State might start with that clarification about who are the accountable managers.
Before I move to the next speaker, it is my pleasure to welcome a former distinguished Member of this House, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, and a group of students he is hosting from Yale University and who are visiting Ireland. They are very welcome to the Gallery and to the houses of democracy in Ireland. I hope they have a good trip. They come from a very distinguished university.
On the Bill, I call Senator Craughwell.
A peer support group is vital, particularly in light of the crash in the Alps some years ago. Part of the rationale behind a peer support group is that people are dealing with others of similar qualifications to themselves and dealing with people who can treat them in a confidential manner, and they can deal with people who are one step removed from the management of the organisation. Let us consider a pilot who is suffering a particular mental health issue. How comfortable would any of us be if we had to pick up the phone this morning and say “I really cannot fly today. My state of mental health would not facilitate that.” How many of us would be willing to ring, knowing we were going to speak to a member of management to tell them that? In these circumstances, people need to be in a protected zone, in a zone where people of similar qualification and similar employment to themselves can understand the issues. Our amendment is very clear about providing all of the supports that are required. People need to know that whatever they say to their peer support group, it is not going to be transmitted to management and that help will be found for such a person and he or she may be put in the direction of psychological support and so on. To go back to Senator Boylan's point about accountable managers, the managers have no place in the peer support group, none whatsoever, as far as I am concerned. This is about employees at the same level dealing with employees, dealing with their issues and making sure we do not have a situation where they put people's lives at risk.
Yesterday we had the Tánaiste in the House to speak about the Sick Leave Bill, which he introduced in the House. One of the points made yesterday was that people went to work during Covid-19 purely because they were afraid they would lose their income or afraid of the damage it would do to them and, in so doing, they risked other people's lives. A pilot who feels, for one reason or another, that he or she cannot take to the skies today needs to have a safe space where they can talk through their issues and explain their problems. They then need to know that they will not be required to fly, their job will not be at risk and, ultimately, their colleagues will cover for them and make sure they are given time and space to deal with the issues that they feel prevent them from flying safely.
Let us remember that when one of these things takes off, there are several hundred people whose lives depend on two people up in the cockpit who are awake and who are cognisant of all of the dangers that are involved when an aircraft is in the sky. These things fly at several hundred miles per hour. During our trip to Shannon, as Senator Buttimer will recall, we all took a stab at being air traffic controllers. At the speed these things fly, a split second can cause a disaster. From that point of view, I am really strong on the issue of peer support not having any relationship to management, other than to be able to say to them that, for example, Gerard Craughwell will not be flying today. I will leave it at that and listen to the other contributions.
I agree with Senator Craughwell. The whole purpose of us doing this legislation, apart from splitting the functions of the IAA, is to try to make aviation safer. It does not sound like rocket science. An enormous part of making the world of aviation safer is to make sure the people who actually run it are mindful of their responsibility. One of the tragedies we saw in Europe a number of years ago gave rise to the need for EU Regulation 2018/1042 to be implemented by the European Commission. I am relating this part of my contribution because it concerns me that a written communication from the Department tells us the reason the Department does not feel that crew peer support should be in primary legislation is because it is already regulated by EU Regulation 2018/1042. The understanding of the Department is that airlines are responsible for putting in place peer support programmes for their own flight crew. However, when we actually read the regulation, it states that an operator shall enable, facilitate and ensure access to a proactive and non-punitive programme.