Consumer rights advocates have claimed that the Government is “making a mockery” of consumer protections by asking the European Commission to suspend laws guaranteeing refunds for cancelled flights.
The Taoiseach claims Ireland “hasn’t taken a formal position” on the matter, despite
The letter, signed by Ireland and 11 other EU countries, calls on the commission to suspend the law requiring airlines to give refunds to passengers whose flights have been cancelled and, instead, permit the offer of time-limited vouchers.
The letter states such a solution would be “acceptable for consumers” provided it included “a clear right of reimbursement” at the end of the validity period of the voucher.
The move would be designed to prevent mass bankruptcies in European airlines and to encourage people to fly again.
Dermott Jewell, policy and council advisor with the Consumers’ Association of Ireland, hit out at the Government for backing the airlines over consumers.
“The bottom line is that consumer rights are enshrined in EU legislation with the supremacy that attaches,” he said.
“These laws were comprehensively drafted, reviewed, and debated over years with all representative parties from all sides before they were enacted.
This poorly-framed and decidedly business-biased request for review makes a mockery of that inclusive regulatory process, denies consumer rights, ignores the financial hardship of many citizens, and must be rejected without delay.
The Taoiseach said the Government “hasn’t taken a formal position on refunds”, adding it “could be something at department level”.
“I doubt any law can be changed retrospectively,” he said. “There isn’t a government position on it.”
It appears there is no set agreement at European level yet, either. EU transport commissioner Adina Valean said the idea was “not an option” but commission vice-president for values and transparency, Vera Jourova, said talks are continuing to find “a workable European solution”.
A spokesperson for the commission told the Irish Examiner it is working on a solution which involves “supporting the tourism industry and also protecting passenger rights”, adding: “It is very important that we do not deal with the issues piecemeal but that we take into account the fact that these issues are very much interlinked.
“In order to address the liquidity crisis, it is important to clarify the rules applicable to refunds and the use of vouchers in case of coronavirus-related cancellations.
Actions to make vouchers more attractive to consumers can help to ease the pressure on operators while ensuring full respect of consumer rights.
Director of the European Consumer Centre Ireland, Dr Cyril Sullivan, said the current rules are clear and “unambiguous”, adding: “Where a flight is cancelled or passengers are unable to avail of a flight due to Covid-19 restrictions, passengers are entitled to a refund.
“However, this has to be balanced with the unprecedented circumstances of Covid-19.
One of the options offered by some airlines is vouchers, which is their entitlement according to the same regulation; however they must also provide an option for a full cash refund if that is the customer’s choice.