Tue, Aug 4, 2020
Read in 6 minutes
Neasa questioned the Dublin Airport Authority and the Shannon Group at the Covid Committee on the impact of Covid-19 on Aviation; and on recent revelations about social welfare data being collected at Dublin Airport.
Neasa Hourigan TD: I want to return to the social welfare issue. I completely accept Mr. Gray’s point around the data sharing and the DAA’s very timely tweets over the weekend and thank it for that. It assured people that the authority is not engaged in this. Based on Mr. Gray’s comments today I am curious as to the basis on which the DAA is allowing social welfare inspectors into the airport. Presumably the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection had to apply to the DAA with a rationale for allowing its staff into the airport. We do not allow just anybody in a high-visibility vest to stop people. Is this the first time the DAA has allowed social welfare inspectors into the airport? To be clear, is it Mr. Gray’s contention that social welfare officers have always had access to our airports?
Mr. Ray Gray: In general, the land side of the airport is an open space, Covid considerations aside. As such many people and authorities act within that space. These include customs, An Garda Síochána and there may well be social welfare officers, I cannot give the Deputy any specifics…
Neasa Hourigan TD: I apologise, but surely those people identified themselves to the DAA.
Mr. Ray Gray: Not necessarily to the DAA but I am sure anybody who is asking a passenger, an individual or a staff member for information will identify themselves, where they are from and perhaps the purpose for which the information is being required. What I am saying to the Deputy is that many State authorities act at the airport and that is a normal part of activity.
Neasa Hourigan TD: Many State authorities act there, okay. Let us say I wanted to give a group of people high-visibility vests to go in and conduct a survey, would nobody in the airport question me or stop me?
Mr. Ray Gray: Within the bounds of reasonableness we ensure our airports operate in an effective manner. If there was activity that was impinging on the normal flow of the airport or we had any security concerns then in the normal course of events those matters would be investigated or reviewed.
Neasa Hourigan TD: Am I to understand that the Department neither sought permission for this action nor was given any?
Mr. Ray Gray: I have no specific knowledge about the collection of personal data or PPS numbers and information like that for the purpose of the pandemic unemployment payment. I do not have any specific information around that which I can offer to the Deputy. I do not dispute that there may well be authorities acting in the normal course of their business at the airport and collecting information, or acting in the course of their mandate at any point in time.
Neasa Hourigan TD: In Mr. Gray’s professional experience might staff of the Department be there in the normal course of their activities?
Mr. Ray Gray: I am quite happy to come back to the committee if there is any specific information from our operational team. However there is nothing I can say I am aware of that really can add or shed an awful lot of light on this subject. It is quite normal to have Garda, customs, or other State authorities acting in the airport. They act there for a whole range of appropriate reasons and anything that comes within their mandate is, I expect, conducted by them at the airport.
Neasa Hourigan TD: I thank Mr. Gray. He speaks in the report, which I also thank him for, of reviewing capital investment programmes. I am aware works have started on the north runway. Is this project under review? In 2020 passenger numbers were expected to be at 9 million. Now, based on predictions from CAPA - Centre for Aviation, it will be a five to ten year wait to reach the circa 30 million passengers we were looking at in 2019. I am under the impression that decisions around the north runway are based on a move to increase capacity.
How much extra capacity over the 2019 capacity is the north runway expected to deliver? Is that the best use of funds at the moment?
Mr. Ray Gray: The north runway is a very long-term project that has been planned since the year I was born or thereabouts. It has been actively planned to put in place since the year I joined the airport or longer, which is over 20 years ago now. It is there to benefit Ireland and the regions for the long term into the future. It is unfortunate but not unusual that significant step changes in airport infrastructure happen during a downturn. By its nature, a downturn occurs every seven to ten years and, therefore, in the life of a project it is not unusual. This project is the right thing for Ireland and significant progress has been made in the construction of the runway. If I was sitting here ten years ago, we would have been talking about the construction of terminal 2 and whether that was wise. Undoubtedly, we would not have been able to grow and support our economy if we had not those airport facilities in place through terminal 2. We would not have been able to expand services, attract the Middle Eastern carriers and accommodate the additional travel that Aer Lingus and many of our airline customers have. These are long-term projects and it is important that we take difficult and measured short-term decisions and stay the course for important strategic decisions. This is not for Dublin Airport, but for Ireland.
Michael McNamara TD: I thank Mr. Gray. I have a brief follow-up. Mr. Gray told Deputy Hourigan repeatedly that he had no personal knowledge of what the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection were doing and he said the same thing to Deputy Darren O’Rourke. Mr. Gray is not here in a personal capacity but as a representative of the DAA. Does the DAA have knowledge of what data the Department is gathering and whether they are actively present on the campus of Dublin Airport collecting data?
Mr. Ray Gray: I said I had no personal or…
Michael McNamara TD: Surely Mr. Gray expected this question. I expect he did not adapt an approach of see no evil, do no evil and hear no evil . He knew this question would be asked here today. It was in the news all weekend. I do not ask what Mr. Gray knows but what the DAA knows. Can Mr. Gray come back to us within 48 hours with an answer as to what the DAA knows, not what he knows or does not know or what he chooses to find out or not find out?
Mr. Ray Gray: I would be happy to come back to the committee on that.
Michael McNamara TD: I thank Mr. Gray.