I would like to express my strong support for the retention of the badly needed amendments Deputy Munster succeeded in making to the Bill on Report Stage in this House. One of the amendments, as set out on page 11 of the Bill that went to the Seanad, sought to evaluate the “projected impact on the well-being and health of local residents”. The other amendment, as set out on page 13 of the Bill that went to the Seanad, sought to require the new authorised regulator to conduct “an assessment of the impact of the decision on the well-being and health of local residents”. I would also like to express my strong support for my colleague, Deputy Brendan Ryan, who has proposed an amendment to Seanad amendment No. 1 to restore the basic safeguard that Deputy Munster managed to get into the Bill to ensure “the well-being and health of local residents is thoroughly evaluated”. Such a safeguard should be at the centre of this. It is inconceivable, unconscionable and hard to believe that the Minister has reneged on the decision of this House to apply such fundamental principles to the Bill.
In my amendment to Seanad amendment No. 3, I seek to restore the principle of Deputy Clare Daly’s outstanding amendment to Part 4, which received the approval of this House on Report Stage. The amendment I propose seeks to ensure “average noise exposure is in accordance with WHO guidelines”. Deputy Daly’s amendment specified “that average noise exposure [should be] reduced below 45dBL, and night noise exposure [should be] below 40dBL”. People understand the kind of range of noise we are talking about. I am trying to retain this fundamental principle in the Bill by referring to noise levels being “in accordance with WHO guidelines”.
It is deplorable that this Bill is being rushed through in the way we have seen this week. The fundamental mistake that the Minister is making in this Bill will be on his record forever. He has chosen the wrong regulator. Many of our constituents find it totally despicable that he has not given us much of a chance to evaluate the removal of our important Report Stage amendments, which happened when this Bill was rushed through the Seanad. We had hours of debate on the excellent amendments in question in this Chamber. The Minister availed of the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael coalition, which is the core Government in this Oireachtas, to ensure they were totally undone in the Seanad. For that reason, we have had to resubmit the amendments in question in an attempt to take account of the lives and well-being of the citizens affected by aircraft noise pollution. It is striking that the regulation of noise is still a fundamental aspect of modern life. The UK Supreme Court seems to have issued a landmark judgment yesterday in the case of a musician whose hearing has been damaged by noise.
I want to put on the record my total opposition to the terribly short timeframe that Deputies were given to submit amendments in advance of this debate. We were given a couple of hours to do so yesterday afternoon when, having greeted Speaker Pelosi and listened to her address, we were busy in committees and other activities and so many things were happening. I believe the conclusion of this Bill has happened in a very undemocratic fashion. As I have said to him on many occasions, if the Minister were on this side of the House, he would have been screaming and shouting at us about how undemocratically the procedure that is now being implemented was playing out. It is disappointing that he has not accepted the invitations of the residents of the most affected localities, including St. Margaret’s, Newtown and The Ward, as well as all of those involved in the forum and other community groups, to visit those areas. I believe that invitation has been open to the Minister since he took up office. It would be easy enough for him to organise a meeting so that he can hear the noise levels associated with the constant takeoffs and landings with which these communities are living night and day.
I support the restoration of Deputy Munster’s first amendment, which was deleted by Seanad amendment No. 1. Its restoration would restore the principle that “the well-being and health of local residents” should be at the centre of this legislation. I warmly welcome Deputy Brendan Ryan’s amendment to Seanad amendment No. 1, which involves a slight rewording of the original amendment as proposed by Deputy Munster while retaining the thrust of that amendment. Deputy Ryan’s amendment emphasises “the well-being and health of local residents” and the impacts on local communities. The point here is that the Minister is avoiding having to make the health and well-being of local residents a central part of his deliberations upon the conclusion of this Bill. We know about the detrimental impacts of noise pollution on health. I mentioned a case that concluded in the UK yesterday. We have to acknowledge the crucial importance of health for everyone who lives in the vicinity of the airport. When we are producing legislation, we should follow the old principle that at least we should do no harm. Perhaps Ministers, Deputies and all public representatives should take the hippocratic oath.
Why did the Minister knowingly delete from this legislation amendments that sought to evaluate the “projected impact on the well-being and health of local residents”? We know that aircraft noise in this area is having an impact on health and well-being and will continue to have such an impact. In light of the Minister’s track record, many cynical people believe that if the airport were near his constituency, he would take a much different role in this regard. If there were no detrimental impacts on the health and well-being of local residents, why would he object to these provisions? We can only assume that aircraft noise pollution has a negative impact on the people living around the airport. Obviously, the assessments we are looking for would prove that all residents are affected by aircraft noise and provide evidence for residents who might wish to pursue litigation.
I strongly supported the Report Stage amendments proposed by Deputies Clare Daly and Munster and their colleagues.
On Report Stage, it was revealed, via documents released under freedom of information provisions, that Fingal County Council had expressed a clear desire to the Minister and his officials not to be the noise regulator because of a clear conflict of interest and its lack of independence from Dublin Airport Authority. We were sent papers by constituents recently that indicated the sheer dependence of Fingal county on the airport is much more profound than the 8% the Minister mentioned. This is because of all the businesses in the airport zone and the rates they pay. A huge chunk of the council’s income comes from this. There is no question but that, down the line, the regulator will change.
There are issues regarding the resources the council would require to take on the role of competent authority. It was interesting to note that the officials in Fingal County Council, whom I hold in high regard, expressed their great reservations about the Minister’s course because of potential issues in future and, of course, the possibility that the council could be left open to legal challenge, right up to European level.
As I state on Report Stage, we are closing in on the airport cap. An annual cap of 40 million passengers might be imposed sooner rather than later. As we know, in June 2016, RPS Group produced an environmental impact scoping report on the north runway proposal. Human health and the impact of aviation noise are covered in Chapter 3.3 of that environmental report. The report noted matters including the potential changes in concentration exposure to ground-borne emissions, airborne emissions, community disruption and the potential for bad health outcomes. It also lists annoyance, academic performance, sleep disturbance, risk of injury and more. On Report Stage, I outlined the severe health impacts that the WHO states can result from noise disturbance.
The evidence raised in the Fingal consultation with regard to environmental noise, including aircraft noise and which includes evidence from the European Environment Agency, EEA, and the WHO, lists a wide range of medical conditions and other problems. These include cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction; cognitive impairment, including: impacts on children’s reading and education; the deep impacts sleep disturbance can have on people’s daily lives; tinnitus; hearing loss; the sheer annoyance of being bothered by relentless aircraft noise; and impacts on quality of life and well-being. For these reasons, of course, I had submitted an amendment on Report Stage for a longitudinal study over a number of years on the impacts of noise on residents and such a study should still be undertaken. My final amendment on Report Stage was No. 100. It called for a three-year review, which the Minister refused. Twenty-six of us supported the amendment but approximately double that number voted against it.
The balanced approach is in the EU Regulation No. 598/2014, the reason for the Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018. People talk about a balanced approach that would include quieter aircraft and all kinds of noise abatement measures but, as I have previously said during our debates on this Bill, one of the problems we have in our legislation is that there is no comprehensive noise legislation regime or national regulator. This is a huge lacuna. It was an issue when dealing with the 2006 noise regulation. The Minister was in the other House at the time. We made the EPA the noise regulator. The Minister does not seem to have noticed that when preparing for this Bill.
We have not established a totally independent regulator so far. Local authorities have to deal with the matter day in, day out. I previously asked the Minister to try to address this by including this specific measure in the legislation. With every Bill, there is an opportunity to gather more data, understand the impacts of legislation, and improve the lives of citizens in all areas of life.
Our amendments about assessment on Report Stage were capable of providing guidance and would allow us to return to this month after month, year after year, and to check it out. My amendment to Seanad amendment No. 3 is a redrafting of that of Deputy Clare Daly. It states, “The competent authority shall direct the airport authority to ensure that average noise exposure is in accordance with WHO guidelines, as applicable”. It was originally an amendment on the noise levels as per the WHO guidelines. Seanad amendment No. 3 deleted the lines in question. The unholy alliance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael abandoned all the population along the airport corridor when it supported the Minister in the Seanad.
We were delighted to have section 19(2) inserted into the original Bill in Part 4. I understand that even the residents and local community groups agree that having levels in the Bill is difficult because, if very low levels are specified, it could make things very hard to even operate an airport. Very sensibly, they would say that going with the WHO’s general approach to noise levels is the best approach, rather than stipulating levels. This is why I urge the Minister to accept my amendment, which is effectively that of Deputy Clare Daly. I do not see why he would not because the WHO gives guidance on this for all airports. Perhaps the Minister might consider my amendment and the others this afternoon so we may put health at the forefront.
There are some areas of St. Margaret’s where the levels can reach almost double those we were specifying. Residents experience up to 60 dBLs but the provision does allow for the levels to be revised in accordance to WHO guidelines. We opt for WHO rules. Why should we not be working towards best practice in this regard? That is why I framed the amendment as I did, in my second attempt to have a stab at this.
There was a case yesterday in the UK Supreme Court where the court upheld a complaint about noise from a musician. It was regarded as a landmark case. Since, like the UK, we have a common law jurisdiction, our legal system will have to keep an eye on this.
The WHO Regional Office for Europe states:
Noise is an underestimated threat that can cause a number of short- and long-term health problems, such as sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, poorer work and school performance, and hearing impairment.
Noise has emerged as a leading environmental nuisance in the WHO European Region, and the public complains about excessive noise more and more often.
The WHO also provides preferred limits for noise levels, stating “guidelines for community noise recommend less than 30 A-weighted decibels (dB(A)) in bedrooms during the night for a sleep of good quality and less than 35 dB(A) in classrooms to allow good teaching and learning conditions.” It further states, “guidelines for night noise recommend less than 40 dB(A) of annual average (Lnight) outside of bedrooms to prevent adverse health effects from night noise.” The WHO Regional Office for Europe also estimates, according to available EU data, that “about 40% of the population in EU countries is exposed to road traffic noise at levels exceeding 55 db(A); 20% is exposed to levels exceeding 65 dB(A) during the daytime; and more than 30% is exposed to levels exceeding 55 dB(A) at night.” Above 55 dB(A), one is disastrous territory in regard to health.
On the 10 October last year, before the Minister introduced his legislation, the WHO published Noise Guidelines for the European Region. The accompanying documentation states that the main differences between them and previous guidelines are: stronger evidence of the cardiovascular and metabolic effects of environmental noise; inclusion of new noise sources, including aircraft, rail and road traffic; the use of a standardised approach to assess the evidence; a systematic review of evidence, defining the relationship between noise exposure and risk of adverse health outcomes; and the use of long-term average noise exposure indicators to better predict adverse health outcomes. This information from the WHO clearly supports the three amendments on the health and well-being of residents that should be taken into account in the regulation of aircraft noise. It seems incredible that, with the Minister’s record of opposition in the Seanad and in this House, he is not standing with us today to ensure that these general amendments on health and well-being are made to the legislation.
In its report, Burden of disease from environmental noise – Quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe, the WHO found, in relation to cardiovascular diseases, that:[T]he evidence from epidemiological studies on the association between exposure to road traffic and aircraft noise and hypertension and ischaemic heart disease has increased during recent years. Road traffic noise has been shown to increase the risk of ischaemic heart disease, including myocardial infarction. Both road traffic noise and aircraft noise increase the risk of high blood pressure.
It is critical that these references be restored to the Bill and that the Minister accept mine and Deputy Brendan Ryan’s amendments, which are a reflection of those put down by Deputies Munster and Clare Daly. It would be the right thing to do today and I urge the Minister to take that action.
2nd contribution on Seanad Amendments to the Aircraft Noise Bill
According to a recent report, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were considering a voting pact in the European election campaign that has just begun. The two parties would support each other.
Having heard the Minister and the Fianna Fáil Deputies today, I believe it is logical that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, having worked so hard together as a coalition for the past three and a half years, including on this legislation, should express it in the European and other elections, in order that the rest of us can take them on head to head.
As always, Deputy Clare Daly put her finger on the nub of the issue. Many, if not all, of us in the House believe sustainable development is possible for Dublin Airport. Like others, I have always lived beside an airport because I come from near Baldonnel. When I was growing up and going to get the cattle and so on, fighter jets screamed overhead. I have always been accustomed to living on a flight path and I still live on one. Thankfully, given that the wind comes mostly from the south west, the noise is mostly that of planes coming in to land on the boundary of Dublin Bay North. I am aware of the profound impact it has on the population of St. Margaret’s, Cloghran, which was mentioned, and all around the airport. We should certainly aim for sustainable development. All the community bodies, projects, small business centres and so on with which I have worked throughout my career and before entering politics have benefited, in respect of employment and so forth, from interacting with the airport. Nevertheless, we feel that noise and night-time flying are matters that need to be addressed and we had the opportunity in the Bill to do so definitively. My colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, rightly mentioned noise contours. I was proud in the past to represent Portmarnock and the Balgriffin-Kinsealy area, which is profoundly affected. It is important that within all the noise contours, the levels of sound are monitored and closely invigilated, with health at the core.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s response to the amendments tabled by my colleagues, Deputies Brendan Ryan, Munster and Clare Daly. It seems the Minister is making it up as he goes along. That is clear from what he said about Regulation No. 598 and the way he set his argument out. There is no reason in the world not to retain Deputy Munster’s amendment which related to health in general, although Deputy Brendan Ryan made this point strongly. The Minister is trying to present the matter as a conflict between the country and the European Union over Regulation No. 598 and noise levels. There is no conflict, however, because we are simply seeking to have at the heart of the legislation a recognition of the problem. The Minister refers back to the older legislation but if that deals with the matter, as he claims, in general terms which include World Health Organization guidelines, there is no reason not to accept Deputy Brendan Ryan’s amendment, given that it makes the same point the Minister made. The Minister is contradicting himself and, unfortunately, not for the first time in the House, making things up. The centre of the whole issue, which we return to again and again, is regulation. Over the years, the Minister was a furious critic of financial regulation and corporate governance regulation, and rightly so. We remember his long articles about banks, governance throughout the business sector and regulators, which were effectively kidnapped by their industries, but he is doing exactly what he always railed against. He is placing a regulator in that precise situation. Nobody will be able to take it seriously as an independent regulator.
Many of us have received a great deal of poignant correspondence from affected residents and those who live near the flight path. They have said again and again that Fingal County Council cannot be the competent authority because it derives such a substantial part of its revenue from the DAA and that, therefore, it cannot be considered independent. That is an objective fact, irrespective of what Deputy Darragh O’Brien will say. Fingal County Council was created out from the old Dublin County Council 25 years ago. The airport has been the fundamental economic driver of that county council. These correspondents have indicated that the DAA has stated its own opposition to the World Health Organization guidelines. That is the real reason the Minister is not prepared to accept my amendment. The DAA itself – perhaps not the current CEO but some of his predecessors – has stated definitively that it is not prepared to accept the World Health Organization guidelines. That is the reason, not the spurious nonsense the Minister outlined about the difference between the general principle of Regulation No. 598 and what the amendments would insert in the Bill, or rather retain, given that we passed the amendment and the Seanad removed it against our will, which was appalling. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil engineered it in the Seanad. Deputy Darragh O’Brien doth protest too much because he and his colleagues were at the heart of what was achieved in the Seanad by eliminating the references to health and the World Health Organization guidelines.
On St. Margaret’s, the Minister was invited to visit it on different occasions and see how bad circumstances can be, where one cannot even open a window. I hope that in the coming days, we will have some warm weather but in St. Margaret’s and its environs, one cannot open one’s window because the threshold of 60 dB will be easily surpassed.
The Minister spoke about the World Health Organization guidelines at length and outlined the 2002 regulations and changes at EU level. His argument, however, utterly contradicts his general point. He should either accept my amendment and follow the World Health Organization guidelines, or accept Deputy Brendan Ryan’s amendment.
While I am not a member of the Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputies Darragh O’Brien and Troy referred to the time that passed before the Bill was brought before the House. There has been great interest in the matter, not least from Deputies Brendan Ryan, Munster and Clare Daly, the last of whom has done colossal work on the area throughout her time in the House. Early last summer, Deputy Clare Daly and I tabled a motion to the House, which I think is still on the full clár published on Tuesdays. The motion acknowledged the 34.4 million passengers in Irish airports in 2017; the increased use of air travel over many years; the probable impact of increased traffic due to Brexit, some of the changes that might happen due to future foreign direct investment and the new relationship we will have with the European Union if Britain finally leaves; and that the airport was planning to have 50 million passengers a year. We asked the Government to note the EU directive planning conditions and environmental impact studies which developed over the past 20 or 25 years—–
Which Private Members’ business did the Deputy use for that?
It is on the clár.
One speaker only, please.
It is difficult when one is an Independent Deputy. I think I have used only one session of Private Members’ business, for the Stardust committee, which the Acting Chairman will recall.